DEATH ON THE GREASY GRASS:
A Spirit Road Mystery (Book #3)
By C, M. Wendelboe
Berkley Prime Crime, June 2013 ($16.00)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Lakota FBI agents Manny Tanno and his best friend Willie White Horn are having a much needed vacation from their home base in Rapid City, planning to enjoy the reenactment of the Battle of the Little Big Horn at Garryowen, Montana. The boys' week out becomes a busman's holiday when one of the Crow enactors falls off his horse and, unlike the other victims of the battle, does not get up again. The blank in his assailant's rifle had been replaced with something much more deadly.
The Billings FBI office has no Native American agents, so Manny's field office volunteers his services to them to "cut through the Indian red tape." The tribal cops at the Crow Agency, Stumper and Chief Deer Slayer, aren't all that impressed with Manny. It had been a long time since the Lakota and Crow faced each other in battle, but old grudges die hard. Reluctantly, they join forces, hoping the death of Harlan White Bird was just a tragic accident.
Stumper is sure the man was murdered because he saw it in a vision. Pretty soon it is evident to all that his vision is right on target. Harlan owned an auction house, where he sold fakes and cheap Made in China genuine Indian artifacts to unsuspecting tourists, as well as valuable, high-priced Native American antiquities to those with deep pockets. He was planning to auction off the famous Beauchamp Collection after the reenactment, and every serious relic collector in North America and beyond wanted in on the sale.
The jewel of the collection is the journal of the legendary Crow, Levi Star Dancer, a scout for Custer. He began the journal in 1876, after the Battle of Greasy Grass, as the Indians called Custer's last stand. It was said to hold secrets of vast importance about the past, secrets that could cause problems for some in the present day. When the team search Harlan's warehouse, it is the one item that is missing. Was it stolen for its monetary value, or to protect those secrets?
Manny has visions too. When he touches objects, he often sees the persons who made them, or scenes of how the object was used. A blood-encrusted knife in the collection summons a disturbing vision of a Lakota warrior striking the killing blow to a Crow warrior. He doesn't realize it, but he is viewing a scene that took place in 1876, a scene described by Levi Star Dancer in his journal.
The novel is told in chapters that alternate between the present day investigation and the past, as Levi's story unfolds. In order to hide the ancient sins of the fathers, deals are made and lives are lost in the present. Manny, Willie, and their cohorts in Montana encounter danger and deceit as they try to unravel the mystery.
Manny and Willie are an engaging crime-fighting duo with an unusual but effective style. Their interactions are funny, but it is obvious their bond is deep. The historical background and its impact on the characters in the present are seamlessly woven together to produce a satisfying tale.
This is the third in the author's Spirit Road mystery series, and it is to be hoped there will be many more to come. The look into the world of the Plains Indians, both past and present, is fascinating, enlightening, and a must read for those who are fans of Tony Hillerman and Margaret Coel.
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