August 23, 2006

Sky Woman Falling

I've read many of Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn/Chee mysteries, but Sky Woman Falling is the first mystery I've read of Kirk Mitchell's. Here's a review from Publishers Weekly:Mitchell combines a great story line with an authentic Native-American background in his flawless fourth mystery (after 2001's The Ancient Ones) to feature FBI Special Agent Anna Turnipseed, a Modoc, and Bureau of Indian Affairs investigator Emmett Parker, a Comanche. When the body of Brenda Two Kettles turns up in a frozen field near her New York reservation, her severe injuries leave no doubt that she fell from the sky, just like Sky Woman in the Oneida story of creation. Enter the Feds' Indian hunting party, Turnipseed and Parker. The Oneida nation's 1985 win in a Supreme Court decision has still not succeeded in the return of their rightful ownership of 270,000 acres now in the hands of about 60,000 white people. Finding an answer seems impossible, though many forces are at work to reach a peaceful resolution. Yet how does an Oneida Indian take a commercial airliner and end up falling to her death? Anna becomes increasingly aware that the solution is somehow connected to the Oneidas' creation story. As the body count rises, she and her almost-lover, Emmett, realize they have no time to work on their damaged personal lives. As a former deputy on the Paiute-Shoshone Indian reservations in California, the author knows the real issues facing Native Americans today. Packed with suspense and action, this intricate tale delivers a conclusion that is nothing short of brilliant.Comment:  This review mostly gets it right. A few thoughts:

  • The book convincingly depicts the Oneida reservation, the dispute over the land claim, and the enmity between whites and Indians. Going into the book, I knew about as much as Parker and Turnipseed about this part of Indian country. Now I know it a little better.

  • It was clever the way the story never referred to the leader of the Oneidas by name, calling him only "the nation's representative." That way, Mitchell could present a version of Ray Halbritter Jr. without incurring his wrath or a lawsuit.

  • No book is flawless. Emmett Parker disappears for the final third of the book and his chemistry with Anna Turnipseed is mostly nonexistent.

  • The plotting isn't as intricate as in most Hillerman mysteries, and that's a good thing. Hillerman usually spins a complex web of a plot with seven or eight strands, which is often too many to follow.

  • I'd say the ending was decent but not "brilliant."

  • Rob's rating:  8.0 of 10. If you're a fan of Native-themed mysteries, check it out.

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