Margaret Coel's skillful depiction of a historic fact conjured alive as fiction in WIFE OF MOON makes for a page-turner. Set on the Wyoming Wind River Reservation, Coel's novel is rich in Arapaho culture, language and lore. Her word paintings of Arapaho people, both past and present, bring them alive with artistic reality.
In 1907, when the Arapahos had moved from small tipi villages to the larger reservation, Edward S. Curtis arrives to photograph warriors raiding the peaceful settlement. He has to stage the event because the families no longer live in tipis of former days. Three warriors, dressed in full battle regalia, ride down a steep slope into the village and launch the staged attack. Stunned silence in its aftermath reveals that the raid has been deadly. Live ammunition, not blank rounds, has killed Bashful Woman, daughter of a Chieftain. Prairie justice demands a hanging.
The scene shifts to the Wind River Reservation of today. Father John O'Malley is the mission pastor, a tall, red-haired picture of his Irish background, tenured here and unwilling to pass the responsibility to his new assistant, Father Damien Henley. His people need him. His path crosses that of Vicky Holden, an Arapaho attorney originally from the village who represents T.J. Painted Horse after the man's wife, Denise, is found dead. Suicide seems likely, but murder surfaces in the investigation.
To complicate matters, the mission is host to a powerful senator's entourage in the days following the grisly discovery. T.J., as tribal councilman, has led protests against the recovery of oil from coal reserves on Indian land, in opposition to the Senator's views. The Mission's museum is showplace for an exhibit featuring Curtis's photographs from the 1907 raid on the village. But the new museum curator, Christine Nelson, has vanished, along with her Range Rover.
Father John consoles his parishioners, relatives of Denise and T.J., while Vicky searches for answers. The two join as old friends to solve the increasing problems cropping up on the sleepy reservation.
Coel's descriptions propel people into events with urgency, and she paints vivid word pictures across an October 1907 time line, weaving the scene into brilliant autumn hues of today's story. At times she is redundant with setting descriptions, a small deduction from her unique storytelling ability. For Margaret Coel followers, WIFE OF MOON is a pleasing addition to her Wind River Reservation series.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 24, 2011