When Tony Hillerman passed away this fall, much discussion ensued about which author would step forward as the heir apparent to his sterling blend of Southwest settings, Native American concerns and suspenseful mystery writing. Margaret Coel, who has earned widespread acclaim (including from Hillerman himself) for her Wind River Reservation series of mystery novels, seems poised to step into those huge shoes, demonstrating her more-than-capable talents in BLOOD MEMORY, an exciting start to a new series.
BLOOD MEMORY starts out with heart-thumping intensity, as recently divorced thirty-something investigative journalist Catherine McLeod takes her dog on a midnight walk. Convinced that someone is following her, Catherine dodges back into her townhouse and calls the only person she can trust --- her divorce lawyer, Maury, who has become her good friend. When Maury shows up, tragedy ensues and leaves Catherine suspicious that this attack was far more than that of a random stranger.
Catherine's editor at the Denver Journal also suspects that Catherine is a target --- probably for one of the journalistic exposés she's so good at writing. When Catherine looks back over her recent articles, one strikes out --- an exploration of the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes' latest attempts to gain back land that was brutally robbed from them in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. Catherine, part Arapaho herself, has been drawn in by this story since the beginning, but she soon discovers that neither the land deal nor the massacre is as straightforward as it first appears. Ties to Denver's most established families (including her prominent ex-husband) and to Washington's political elite abound. But are they enough for someone to want her dead?
Margaret Coel gets into the mind of the killer for hire in this suspenseful novel, with scenes alternating between his plots to find and kill Catherine and Catherine's equally clever ploys to escape. The journalistic aspect of the story is also fascinating, as Catherine's attempts to regain normalcy and get to the bottom of the mystery by researching and writing her news stories might also be what kills her, as the potential assassin uses her published stories to see what she knows and to guess what leads she might follow next. It's a race to the unexpected finish in this cat-and-mouse game, in which the mouse has just as many tricks up her sleeve as the cat does.
Coel's Wind River Reservation mysteries have gained her critical praise and a popular following. BLOOD MEMORY, with its gutsy, smart but vulnerable heroine and its unique take on tribal politics, journalism and Western history, seems destined to make Coel more popular yet. Fans of her earlier novels will be pleased to see a cameo by a familiar character and will be thrilled by the exciting possibility that Coel might someday combine her two series into an even richer blend of Southwestern suspense.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 22, 2010