Death Along the Spirit Road

by C. M. Wendelboe

Reviewed by   The Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club

 Image            Manny Tanno is a hero who is quite different from the typical slick detectives that occupy the pages of most mysteries.  He is over-weight, balding, fighting the urge to smoke again, and perhaps the worst driver in mystery lore.  He is a very real person who could not wait to get out of his hometown and prove that he could be a success.  What makes him different is that his “home town” is Pine Ridge Village, a Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation.  Manny did achieve success.  He became a highly regarded FBI agent.  Now he is reluctantly coming home, sent by his boss to solve a murder that no one is able to solve.  Manny must do it in two weeks or lose his job as an instructor at the FBI Academy.

Jason Red Cloud also grew up in Pine Ridge Village and became a successful land developer.  He was heading up a project that would bring jobs and money to the impoverished reservation.  Jason was found dead, beaten with a Sioux war club.  Near the body was also found what appeared to be the remnants of a Lakota religious ritual that is traditionally performed for the dead.

To add to the complications of the murder, Manny’s old rival, “Lumpy” Looks Twice, is the acting Chief of the Tribal Police Agency.  Lumpy is not cooperative, and sets up Manny in tough situations to make his life difficult.  The community is not greeting this FBI agent with open arms.  Even his family is less than happy to see Manny return.  This is probably because his older brother, Reuben, who served time in prison for murder, is a prime suspect in this homicide.

C. M. Wendelboe’s first effort with the characters of Pine Ridge is successful.  The people he describes come alive in the pages of this book, the first in a series of three mysteries.  He succeeds in making us care about Willie, the young policeman who Manny befriends, about Cara, who falls for Manny, and about Reuben and others.  Around these personalities, Wendelboe weaves a good mystery centered on a murder, stolen and returned Indian artifacts, and Indian culture.  The author shows the importance of the family among the Lakota.

Wendelboe visited the Mary S. Biesecker Library August 6th, 2011 and on August 7th he appeared at the American Legion in Somerset.  We therefore have a connection with this mystery writer.  If you enjoy Margaret Coel or Tony Hillerman’s stories of American Indian culture and the hard-boiled detectives of Robert Parker, you should enjoy C. M. Wendelboe.  This is a unique combination of both styles, and it comes off well.  It should wet your appetite for his next two books, both with Manny Tanno also as the hero.  We recommend his first mystery and hope that Mr. Wendelboe will pay another visit to us.

Key Ideas from different club members:

Good detective story with Native American info sprinkled throughout; Interesting; Hard to get into but I liked it once I got into it; I liked the book; I will read more of this series; Really outstanding.

The Club Members rating of this book:

Pat Kuna, Lee Ann Schrock, Sharon Shaffer, Bill Simmons, Barb Swanson, Linda Troll, Patty Tullis, and Rae Ann Weaver

Club’s Average Rating: 4.1 of 5       Rating Range: 3 to 5

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Crime, Mystery

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