Margaret Coel Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Margaret Coel’s series about Vicky Holden and Father John O’Malley is among the most culturally rich of several detective series featuring Native American detectives. The series places a high premium on psychological realism, depicting in depth the main characters in their complex mixtures of desires, ambitions, fears, and anxieties. The author to whom Coel is most often compared is Tony Hillerman.

Coel has kept the Holden and O’Malley series flowing smoothly and steadily, producing about a novel per year since 1995 as well as short stories about the characters. The novels have usually been reviewed favorably, with positive comments focusing on Coel’s realistic character development and her accurate depictions of Arapaho history and culture. Although not Native American, Coel has engaged in extensive research on Arapaho culture and history for years. She regularly visits the Wind River Reservation and St. Stephen’s Mission (the model for the fictional St. Francis Mission).

Coel has made the best-seller lists of such newspapers as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Denver Post. Both The Spirit Woman (2000) and The Shadow Dancer won the Colorado Book Award, with the former also winning the Willa Cather Award for best novel of the West.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Browne, Ray B. Murder on the Reservation: American Indian Crime Fiction. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press/Popular Press, 2004. Includes discussions of Coel under a variety of headings, most usefully in the sections “The Making of the Author” and “Cultural Background.” Indexed.

Coel, Margaret. Margaret Coel. Author’s Web site includes substantial information about the author and her books, interviews and articles, and links to other sites, including one for the Wind River Reservation.

Donaldson, John K. “Native American Sleuths: Following in the Footsteps of the Indian Guides.” In Telling the Stories: Essays on American Indian Literatures and Cultures, edited by Elizabeth Hoffman Nelson and Malcolm A. Nelson. New York: Peter Lang, 2001. Discusses only books in which the central character is a Native American and therefore does not discuss Coel’s novels, despite Vicky Holden sharing sleuthing duties with Father John O’Malley, but provides good information on the subgenre of Native American detective fiction. Indexed.

“Margaret Coel: Love of History Leads to Mysteries.” Wyoming Library Roundup 48, no. 4 (Fall, 2006): 5-7. Discusses the biographical factors that led Coel to begin writing about Arapahos.

Trenholm, Virginia Cole. The Arapahoes, Our People. 1970. Reprint. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986. Traces Arapaho history from prehistoric times to the late twentieth century with considerable attention to the Arapaho way of life. Illustrations, maps, indexed.