Wife of Moon

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Wind River reservation’s serenity shatters when Denise Painted Horse’s body is discovered, shot at point-blank range, beside her bed. Father John of the St. Francis Mission arrives on the scene early. Although he has no official connection to law enforcement, the well-regarded priest usually tries to help out, to comfort the survivors and perform a blessing.

There is no lack of suspects; Denise’s husband TJ was fighting an oil company’s bid to put oil rigs on the reservation, a stance which has already drawn death threats from unemployed tribal members. TJ thinks the bullet was intended for him. But this is hardly the only plausible motive. A mysterious art curator suddenly appears at the mission’s museum, obviously hiding some secrets. The cold-case murder of Chief Sharp Nose’s daughter during a reenacted battle seems hauntingly similar, but a century after that event, how could the two crimes be connected? Even worse, TJ himself is soon charged with Denise’s murder.

He hires Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden to defend him. Vicky and Father John have worked together in the past, but after her return from a job in Denver, the pastor has kept his distance, fearing that their growing closeness might put his vows at hazard. Now, however, she has to turn to him for his knowledge of the tribe’s inner politics and recent events. They edge gingerly into a new working partnership.

Before it is over, TJ falls victim to a fatal gunshot. A tense standoff at a mountain cabin reveals the true killers, the thread tying them to the historical mystery, and the curator’s true identity. As TJ expected, the key is politics, tribal and off- reservation, but in a wholly unforeseen way.

Readers who enjoy Tony Hillerman’s and David and Aimee Thurlo’s Navajo cop mysteries will find Coel’s Native American stories equally fascinating. Large dollops of history back up an exciting story that reflects today’s social issues.