Night of the White Buffalo: A Wind River Mystery
Margaret Coel’s novels originate in the Western landscape and authentic Native American culture. They are set in Wyoming, with its great plateau and mountains, rivers and wind. This is a place of stark beauty where all things struggle to survive the elements --- a perfect place for murder and mayhem to occur. NIGHT OF THE WHITE BUFFALO is the 18th book in Coel’s series featuring Father John O’Malley and Vicky Holden.
Father John has been the priest at St. Francis Mission for over 10 years when a man in a large cowboy hat arrives in the confessional booth. “I committed murder,” he admits, hoping for forgiveness. He had thought he’d heard everything, but these words startle him. The priest offers counsel to the man about taking responsibility and atoning for his sin. But as the man leaves confessional, he says: “I should not have come.” Concerned, Father John hurries out of the church, but the man has disappeared, the wind blowing across the Wind River landscape in his wake. This is a haunting experience for him, as the stranger never returns. And he can’t help but wonder if the self-confessed murderer will kill again.
"Whether this is your 18th or your first encounter with Coel’s mystery series, you will find yourself transported to a unique geography and community. Her descriptions of Wyoming create a visually distinct and stunning sense of place, and the characters have vitality and authenticity."
Two months later, Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Lakota attorney Adam Lone Eagle are driving along the lone highway when they come upon a truck leaving and another parked on the side of the road. They stop to check on the stranded vehicle and discover buffalo rancher Dennis Carey shot to death. When Father John hears of the incident, his instinct tells him that the man from confessional might have struck again.
As Father John and the local police notify Sheila Carey of her husband’s death, they learn that a white buffalo has been born to the buffalo herd on the Broken Buffalo Ranch. The ranch is on the Wind River Reservation that is shared by the Northern Arapahos and Eastern Shoshone tribes. The white buffalo, a sacred sign for the Plains Indians, is said to return in times of trouble to remind the people that the creator is among them. It is an attraction for all the tribes and non-native peoples alike. There will be visitors arriving from all over, wanting to see the calf. Sheila will have to hire extra help.
Then along comes Reg Hartley. Reg is a cowboy from Colorado who is hoping to find a friend from high school who left his family’s ranch after words with his father. His mother is now dying, and Reg needs to let him know. Josh is an excellent cowboy and ranch hand. His postcards home said he was working at a buffalo ranch, but all of the mail sent to him has been returned. His last-known place of residence was at the Broken Buffalo Ranch.
Meanwhile, Vicky and Father John hear rumors that several other hired hands have disappeared as well. A beloved coach who is also the owner of an employment agency who placed ranch hands is murdered. The Careys only hired Caucasian cowboys, even though their ranch was on the reservation. Has the animosity over their hiring practices caused anger among the Native Americans? Or is Father John’s mysterious confessor behind it all? As Vicky, Father John and Reg each search for their own truth, they find themselves in danger as the identity of the killer becomes clear.
Whether this is your 18th or your first encounter with Coel’s mystery series, you will find yourself transported to a unique geography and community. Her descriptions of Wyoming create a visually distinct and stunning sense of place, and the characters have vitality and authenticity. Her portrayal of the significance of the white buffalo honors Native tradition while creating a fascinating mythology for her story to unfold within. This murder mystery is rich not only with suspense and intrigue, but also with Western culture and setting.
Margaret Coel has long been considered the accomplished heir to Tony Hillerman’s legacy. And deservedly so. It is a grand day for this reviewer, knowing there are 17 other books in the series to catch up on.
Reviewed by Jennifer McCord on September 5, 2014