(28. - 1133.) Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden - Virgil Wounded Horse exacts justice. His justice. With fists and feet, for a fee of $100 per tooth knocked out or bone broken, he punishes the wicked on the huge Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Sometimes he works for free.
Virgil does not believe in traditional rituals and ceremonies. He no longer drinks.
Every society has its distinctions. Virgil is iyake (half-blood). All his life there have been full bloods looking down upon him.
Life is hard on the rez. Virgil lives with his nephew, Nathan. Money is short. When he is offered a job by Councilor Ben Short Bear, worth $5,000 rather than the usual few hundred, Virgil is tempted but needs to be sure that Rick Crow is truly evil and a threat to the rez. Virgil and Rick have had a long and difficult personal relationship.
The book is unflinching in its portrayal of the poverty and social problems upon the reservation. Most reservation residents are unemployed or semi-employed. Many families are broken. Despair and boredom are everywhere. Young suicides occur regularly.
Some residents do very well. Usually they are in governance. Ben Short Bear has a good income and expense allowances. His wife, Ann, comes from a well-to-do Osage family in Oklahoma. She can shop and travel around America. They are pushing their daughter, Marie, to go to medical school.
Marie and Virgil had lived together but their personal relationship faltered.
Reserve residents enjoy time together. Whether for a burger or a smoke or a drink or a visit to the casino they are constantly meeting.
While not spiritual, Virgil has a strong spirit though he struggles to find a focus to his life.
Drugs have become as prevalent on the reservation as alcohol. When Nathan is affected, Virgil is drawn into challenging the traffickers of heroin.
Marie and Virgil re-establish their relationship. Their future is uncertain.
There are layers of moral issues. The pursuit of evil is difficult. Like real life the investigation is frustrating with menace constantly lurking.
It is more of a thriller rather than a mystery. With the vivid depictions of the rez, well drawn descriptions of its people and a credible plot I was drawn swiftly through the book.
The author states:
Winter Counts is one of the first modern thrillers written by a Native American author.
Virgil is a great character. I am glad he will be featured in at least one more book.
Winter Counts is a distinctive memorable book.