Death Along the Spirit Road
by C.M. Wendelboe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It took me three tries to read this, not because it was bad by any means but because it brought up emotions I didn’t think I would feel this strongly about. I did my medical residency on Pine Ridge reservation (in part) and left South Dakota full of promise and anticipation of my medical career only to have it ended by injury in five years. I look back on Pine Ridge and remember all that and I thought I was over it until this brought it up. This evokes a fairly good sense of the reservation. I shopped at Big Bat’s convenience store and when Prairie Edge comes into it (Up in Rapid City) I struggled (I was taught to weave beads by my Lakota patients and bought them here. I still have many hanks, unable to do that any more but unable to part with them).
I did struggle with what to star this. 3.5 is about right but I upgraded it because I did like it a lot (though some of it bugged me). Manny Tanno is a 50ish FBI agent whose boss (who apparently dislikes him and I hate that cop trope) has sent him to Pine Ridge to solve the homicide of Jason Red Clouds and only gives him a few weeks to get it done or he’s giving away Manny’s teaching position at the academy (this is part of what bugged me).
Manny has to work with “Lumpy” an old high school rival who also hates him. Lumpy assigns him Willie With Horn, a young tribal cop whose Aunt Lizzy is Manny’s sister in law. She was married to his brother, Reuben, who spent 20 years in jail for killing Billy Two Moons years before. They have a daughter, Erica, who is Harvard educated working with Jason as is her mother, Elizabeth (Lizzy). Reuben and Elizabeth were part of A.I.M. in the 60s and a lot like the Black Panthers, they had good ideals but overly violent if not murderous ways of working toward them.
Either I missed it or it was just a bit of poor writing, but I have no idea why Manny instantly hones in on his brother for the murder of Jason. In fact he really doesn’t try to develop any other suspects though does find some later as multiple attempts on Manny’s life happen. Reuben is out of jail and is now a wicasa Wakan
, a holy man and has a bunch of juvenile delinquents working for him dosing brick laying.
Jason was trying to build a resort uncomfortably close to Wounded Knee (another thing that evoked memories for me). With him dead, the tribe stands to lose millions. However, as Manny begins to investigate he does learn that his family is really intertwined with Jason. (but he suspected Reuben before he learned this which annoyed me). Elizabeth had argued with him and thinks his personal assistant, Clara, is inept.
One thing that really did annoy me was the women. Manny is 50 something, getting paunchy and bald but three women are throwing themselves at him. Two make sense. Sophia is a reporter looking for an exclusive, Desiree is a former would-be girlfriend who married and divorced Lumpy and Clara who makes no sense (I thought she was a suspect). In fact, Manny is so unprofessional with her, ignoring his sister in law’s warning about her, never even thinking about them after he meets Clara, and he tells her more than she tells him. It comes off as middle-aged man fantasy and drags down the whole story. If there had been any more of it my star rating would be lower.
I enjoyed it. I was a bit disappointed with the end. It brought up memories, good and bad for me.View all my reviews