Brought to you by OBS reviewer Jeanie
Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Father John O’Malley are caught between two cultures that won’t let go of the past—and a killer who won’t leave any witnesses…
On the anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Colonel Edward Garrett, a well- known Custer impersonator, leads a troop of reenactors in a cavalry parade down Main Street in Lander, Wyoming. But a group of Arapaho youth disrupts the parade by riding their horses around the column, just to remind everyone who actually won the battle. Then history repeats itself when, in the confusion, Garrett is shot dead.
Father John O’Malley knows in his heart the Arapaho are not guilty. And Vicky Holden finds herself professionally and personally compromised from getting involved. But what begins as a murder soon reveals itself as a conspiracy that neither Father John nor Vicky could have foreseen. And someone wants to ensure that the truth they discover will die with them…
How could I have missed this great series? Killing Custer is Margaret Coel’s 17th novel in the Wind River Mystery series, and I loved it! She imparts the history of the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes of the 19th and 21st centuries with an obvious appreciation of and respect for their cultures, particularly as they endured grave dangers and continual challenges.
Killing Custer opens to a present day rodeo parade in Lander, Wyoming in which a cast of 7th Cavalry reenactors and famed General Custer impersonator Edward Garrett are surprising participants. Really? Barely a few moccasin steps from the Wind River Reservation where the Arapaho and Shoshone live? As the parade and the reenactors proceed, young men from the Arapaho tribe surround them in a move that was reminiscent of the dare ride at Custer’s Last Stand. The traditional dare ride was well choreographed and executed, with the young men dressed and painted as the traditional tribal warriors, including Crazy Horse, his face dusted with dirt with grass braided in his hair. It ended when the parade stalled in a confusion of horses and riders with General Custer – Edward Garrett – lying in the road. Shot, with those around believing that the Indians had “again” “killed Custer”.
Thus begins the riveting investigation that leads Detective Madden and Father John, a priest who has been at St. Francis Indian Mission for more than ten years, to Garrett’s daughter to notify her of his death. She tells them of the young wife his father took a couple years prior, a woman who plays Custer’s wife, Libbie, as if she were the woman, just as Garrett at times seemed to believe he was Custer.
Detective Madden already has suspects in mind, the Arapaho who had been dressed as Crazy Horse, and a friend with the horsemanship skills to train and pull off the dare ride. Father John, who had known both young men several years, knew that neither of them could murder anyone, no matter how strongly they felt about what the person represented.
Vicky Holden, an Arapaho attorney and long-time friend of Father John, was visited by Garrett’s widow, Belinda Clark, who dressed as if she were Libbie Custer even when not in a reenactment. She hired Vicky to help her with a separate matter, which unfortunately put her into a position of being able to represent the young men should they be accused due to professional conflict of interest.
This novel was outstanding! I loved every minute of the history, suspense, and interactions between Vicky and Father John as they tried to prove the young Arapaho men innocent, find the real culprit(s), and follow the money trail. As many others have stated, I see her writings in some ways as Tony Hillerman’s when it comes to her passion for the Western and Native American cultures, but different in respects to Father John and Vicky Holden. Detective Madden, well, just isn’t the kind of cop that Jim Chee or Joe Leaphorn were.
Characterizations are amazing; those current and historical men and women could step out of the pages of Killing Custer and onto the dusty backroads of Wind River Reservation. There are several contrasting people involved in the story, the investigation, and I appreciate how the author could portray each point of view – from the suspects and their respective family members, the wealthy members of s local “club”, to Garrett’s wife and daughter, the reenactors, and those associated with Belinda Clark’s case.
The story itself is rich with the history of those affected by General Custer and woven with the traditions still alive in today’s culture. History came alive for me, from Washita to Little Big Horn, the Seventh Cavalry and their crimes against the tribes. The plot was well-planned and detailed; every time I thought I could figure out “whodunit”, something or someone else turned up that changed the course of the investigation again. Father John and Vicky Holden are two people I would want on my side if I were in trouble! In the meantime, I have many of their stories to catch up on! This novel reads very well as a stand-alone mystery, the beauty and history of the west are alluring and Margaret Coel has the stuff that legendary storytellers are made of. Killing Custer has my highest recommendation for adults of all ages who enjoy mystery with elements of history and present day events, excellent inclusion of Native American traditions and an unlikely – yet brilliant – pair who seek the truth and honor their respective calling and heritage. I’m looking forward to reading many more of this series!
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*