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Killing Custer by Margaret Coel

Killing Custer” is number 17 in Coel’s “A Wind River Mystery” series.  I’m surprised that I have never run in to another title in this series, or at least not for a long time.  I plan on going back to some of the earlier titles in the series.  Those who are fans of  Tony Hillerman, J.A. Jance or Nevada Barr will find Coel’s series particularly compelling.

The setting for this series is the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and surrounding towns.  “Killing Custer” is set in Lander, Wyoming, just outside of the reservation.  A group of reenactors pretending to be 7th Calvary members are encircled during a rodeo days parade in Lander by a group of Arapahoe warriors and the man dressed as General George Armstrong Custer, Edward Garrett, is shot dead.  Everyone assumes one of the young Arapahoes shot Garrett and members of both the Lander Police Department and BIA police swarm the reservation to question and lock up some of the young men.  The suspicion zeroes in on Colin Morningside, a descendant of Crazy Horse, and Mike Longshot, the man who taught the other warriors how to control their horses while closing in on the reenactors.

The two who team up to investigate, since the police and BIA officers seem unwilling to look beyond the reservation for the killers, are Father John O’Malley, the priest in charge of the Wind River mission, and Vicky Holden, an attorney who grew up on the reservation and now practices in Lander for both native and non-native clients.

Margaret Coel, who is trained as an historian, demonstrates a very intimate understanding of the history, cultural, and socio-economic impact of reservation life and interactions between natives and whites.  She makes it very clear that mixing Little Bighorn reenactors with a large community of Native Americans is an effrontery of enormous proportions and the story that unfolds in this incident is almost inevitable.  Did the real killer understand the ramifications and use the events as a coverup for the real murderer?

I highly recommend “Killing Custer” for anyone interested in looking at the actions of General Custer and his death at Little Bighorn through the lens of the Native Americans who are descendants of those who took revenge on Custer and his men.  A solid mystery is intertwined with the social commentary.

Reviewed from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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