(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although the plot of The Sharpest Sight involves a double murder mystery, the novel is far more than a whodunit, as it concerns several people of mixed ancestry who have to discover and come to terms with their identity, acknowledge their American Indian heritage, its values and meaning, and the position of Indians in a predominantly white society. The novel also deals with the trauma of the Vietnam War on its walking wounded.

The narrative opens with Mundo Morales, deputy sheriff of Amarga, California, driving his rounds on a night when it is raining so hard that the ordinarily dry Salinas River is flooding. Mundo thinks he sees a panther in his headlights, but when he gets out to investigate, he catches a glimpse of a dead body being tossed in the churning waters. It is his best friend, Attis McCurtain. They had grown up together, played basketball together, and gone to Vietnam together. While Mundo made a shaky adjustment back to American life, however, Attis cracked up, stabbed his girlfriend, Jenna Nemi, to death, and was institutionalized in the local hospital for the criminally insane. No one except Mundo, Attis’s father and brother, and the murderer now believe that Attis is dead; everyone else with an interest in him insists that he escaped from the asylum and is on the run. Mundo cannot find the body, but he is sure that whoever cut the fence wires and helped Attis to escape did so in order to kill him. The likeliest suspect is Dan Nemi, the father of the murdered daughter. So thinks Hoey McCurtain, Attis’s father, who in turn is gunning for Dan to avenge his son’s murder. Mundo therefore has to solve one murder while preventing another.

The authorities have vested interests in killing the case, however, and want Mundo to shut down his investigation altogether. Since Attis was a veteran and escaped from a veterans’ hospital, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) enters the scene in the person of Lee Scott, a singularly obnoxious agent who boasts of being a Vietnam veteran who had no trouble adjusting to civilian life. The FBI and government seek...

(The entire section is 857 words.)