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SINISTER GRAVES
by Marcie Rendon
Soho, October 2022
240 pages
$27.95
ISBN: 1641293837


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Cash Blackbear is a nineteen-year-old pool player and college student in the mid-1970s who sometimes helps her long-term guardian and friend, Sheriff Wheaton. As a young Ojibwe woman, she can ask questions that a middle-aged white authority figure can't. One spring, as the flat farmland of the Red River valley is awash in frigid snowmelt, she gets the call: A woman's body has floated into the town of Ada, Minnesota. She looks native. Can Cash lend a hand to find out who she is?

Cash is a prickly, plucky character, formed by a life of hard knocks and prejudice. She doesn't like to answer phones and barely has a word to say, but she knows how to find allies and get answers patiently. For the fee of a twelve-pack of beer, Cash wrangles a boat ride across the flooded valley to view the body and begin making inquiries. As she checks with people on the White Earth reservation, she learns there's a charismatic church out on the prairie that has a handsome young pastor and a congregation that includes several native women. But when she approaches the lonely church she sees a threatening dark shadow. She's not sure what it is, but it makes her feel cold and afraid. It's only when she enlists the help of another native, a boy raised on the rez, that she learns what the shadow is called and where she can get a medicine pouch for protection because, however she feels about it, she needs to confront whatever is going on at that church, especially when a second native woman is found dead, her infant missing.

Though a short book, this isn't a fast-paced thriller; the prose spreads out like the deceptively flat surface of the flooded valley, its current hidden as it sweeps along. The author, an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, writes in an easy style that braids the mystery with Cash's everyday life - playing pool, taking classes, drinking beer - in prose that is both matter-of-fact and graceful. The supernatural elements are part of Cash's world, not exotic or spooky.

Though this is the third volume in the series, readers can easily enjoy it without an introduction. Fortunately, Soho is reissuing the previous books, MURDER ON THE RED RIVER and GIRL GONE MISSING, to make it easier for readers to catch up on Cash Blackbear's previous investigations.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, September 2022

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