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.