Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Stephen Miller's favorite crime fiction of 2020

Stephen Miller was a regular contributor to Mystery News, writing the “In the Beginning” column about new crime-fiction writers for several years. At The Rap Sheet he tagged his favorite crime fiction of 2020. One title on the list:
Winter Counts, by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Ecco):

Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He’s the court of final appeal, the reservation distributor of retribution in a world of selectively enforced laws. When crimes against Native Americans are too small to interest the feds, and home-cooked justice turns a blind eye, Virgil is the one people call, to track down the bad guys and deliver some personalized punishment. Such is the premise of Winter Counts, the propulsive debut crime novel by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. When a tribal official approaches Virgil to investigate and rid the rez of a growing heroin problem, the appeal lies primarily in settling a long-overdue score with one of Virgil’s childhood antagonists, a courier within a mini-cartel out of Denver. But then, Virgil’s 14-year-old nephew, Nathan, accidentally overdoses on his first sample of smack and is arrested after too many opioids are found in his school locker. That’s all it takes for this mission to become far more personal. Virgil juggles his responsibilities to his community, his nephew, and his own sense of justice while navigating criminal lawyers, the tribal elders, and the feds who are incapable of executing on the sting that they have only haphazardly planned.

The hook of this novel is that it takes place largely on tribal land with an almost exclusive Native American cast of characters. That’s a good start, but what keeps the pages turning is the slow crescendo of action, with Virgil trying not to become overwhelmed in hopelessness as matters seem beyond anyone’s control. Despite his profession as hired muscle, Virgil is emblematic of his people and their desire to be allowed to peacefully go about their lives. It’s a conflict that makes for a gripping read.
Read about the other entries on the list at The Rap Sheet.

Winter Counts is among Molly Odintz's six favorite titles from the "new wave of thrillers where the oppressed get some well-earned revenge" and Jennifer Baker's top twelve mystery novels featuring BIPOC protagonists.

The Page 69 Test: Winter Counts.

My Book, The Movie: Winter Counts.

Q&A with David Heska Wanbli Weiden.

--Marshal Zeringue