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THE GIRL WITH BRAIDED HAIR


By Margaret Cole

Berkeley Prime Crime, 2007 ($23.95)
ISBN: 978-0-425-21712-2

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

This is the thirteenth volume in the Wind River Reservation series, featuring Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Father John O’Malley, and it is just as thoughtfully and beautifully written as the previous twelve.

Father John is called out to the edge of the reservation, where a disarticulated skeleton, presumably Native American, has been discovered. The body is that of a young Indian woman who had been brutally beaten, then shot in the head. She had recently given birth, but there is no sign of the infant. Forensic evidence dates her murder to 1973, a time when A.I.M., the American Indian Movement, was stirring up trouble, or fighting for Indian rights, depending on your point of view. Most people on the Wind River Reservation just want to forget that turbulent time, and at least one will stop at nothing, including more murders, to make sure the past stays buried.

The mothers on the reservation, though, want to know who the girl was, so she can have her identity back and be buried with the proper respect. Father John promises to try. The police say they will also, but make only token efforts. It’s a very cold case, few clues, and the Arapaho will not, in any case, discuss Indian matters with the authorities. He and Vicky, independently and together, do discover that the young woman was Liz Plenty Horses, that she was involved with A.I.M., and that she had a baby daughter named Luna, whereabouts unknown.

While visiting her children, Susan and Lucas, in Denver, they come across a scene of domestic violence -- a woman is being battered by a man while others stand by and watch. Lucas stops the car and wades in, probably saving the woman’s life. Vicky is proud of him, but is saddened to think he was probably re-living scenes from their own family history, maybe wishing he’d been able to help his mother, even though he’d been a small child at the time. The batterer turns out to be the son of a wealthy businessman, and his high-priced lawyers try to sway their testimony, but they stand firm on what they saw. This, too, brings back memories of Vicky’s marriage to an abusive man who was well-respected in the community.

It is now almost ten years since Father John arrived at Wind River, far longer than the usual stay for a priest. He does not want to leave, not now, probably not ever, but he knows he could be asked to move on at any time. His superior "offers" him a sabbatical in Rome, an offer most priests, including his assistant, Father Ian McCauley, would love to accept, but his heart is with the people of Wind River, and most especially with Vicky. Will he stay or will he go? Time will tell.

Coel’s books always feature at least one major serious topic, and in this case there are two: one is domestic violence, the other is the impact of the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) on the Native American population and the rest of the country during the sixties and seventies, and the lasting effects that are still being felt. Coel deftly describes that little-known part of our history. The book is beautifully written, as I have come to expect from Coel. She writes about the Native Americans of Wind River with love and respect, but doesn’t try to gloss over their faults. This is another fine entry in the series, and it is my favorite. So far.

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