June 25, 2010

Review of DreadfulWater Shows Up

Here's a book I read a few months ago:

DreadfulWater Shows Up: A NovelFrom Publishers Weekly

Canadian author King (Medicine River) adopts a transparent pseudonym for his first venture into the mystery field, with agreeable results. Thumps DreadfulWater, an ex-California cop and a Cherokee Indian, ekes out a living as a photographer in the little Pacific Northwest community of Chinook. A self-described "self-unemployed" fine arts photographer, he also does crime scene photography for the local police on occasion. When a murder victim turns up in a condo of the tribe's new Buffalo Mountain Resort casino complex that's getting ready for its grand opening, a reluctant Thumps soon finds himself looking for his sometime girlfriend's hotheaded son, a prime suspect. King's wry humor ("Thumps liked women who knew what they wanted, but... like most men, he liked them better in theory than in practice") goes over well, as does Thumps's laconic but effective investigative style. King's quirky characters play some lively variations on familiar stereotypes, from the wise Indian sage who always knows when to expect visitors to the lady coroner who refers to the morgue as her "kitchen." The author's mostly gentle satire evokes appreciative chuckles rather than belly laughs. Readers who'd like to see more of Thumps and the denizens of Chinook will be pleased to note several clues suggestive of a sequel.
DreadfulWater Shows UpWhile neither the writing nor the plot is exceptional, they're both wholly adequate, with room to grow and the potential to deepen and develop. The cast of small-town characters is believable if not totally fleshed out. Although thin, the linear plot is well thought-out, with a credible twist and unusual untidy ending.

Thumps is clearly set up to become a series character, and I suspect, quite a popular one among the soft-boiled mystery reading set. He's quirky enough to be memorable and his self-deprecating persona is endearing. Any novel with an Indian character will invite the inevitable comparison to Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee, a comparison augmented by Hillerman's blurb on the back cover. Don't go there. There's minimal Indian lore in 'DreadfulWater Shows Up' and no Native American versus white man cultural conflict. Hillerman is Hillerman, and GoodWeather isn't, nor does he pretend to be.

'Dreadful Water Shows Up' starts out in the slow lane and gradually picks up speed. It moves from mystery lite to semi-soft-boiled, an entertaining light read that doesn't tax your brain but doesn't insult your intelligence. While it never gains the momentum or energy of a high-speed chase, it delivers a better than average ride.
Rob's review

DreadfulWater Shows Up is set on a fictitious reservation seemingly located in northwestern Montana, perhaps near the Idaho or Canadian border. The tribe isn't specified, but it could be Blackfeet or a neighboring culture.

As the above comments indicate, the story is more about the quirky characters than the mystery. A few nice touches:

  • The chairwoman is a single mother who lives in a trailer.

  • The wise elder has salvaged old computers and become an information-gathering expert.

  • The tribe has a casino resort but it hasn't seriously affected life on the rez. There aren't a lot of casino customers in western Montana. The real money is in a luxury housing development with spectacular views.

    Tony Hillerman's mysteries are usually dense with characters, culture, and plot twists. Indeed, they're too dense sometimes. DreadfulWater Shows Up is the opposite--a bit on the light side--but enjoyable nevertheless. Rob's rating:  8.0 of 10.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.
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