Friday, April 16, 2021

Freeform Friday: Winter Counts - David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Summary: A groundbreaking thriller about a vigilante on a Native American reservation who embarks on a dangerous mission to track down the source of a heroin influx.

Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.

They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost. (Summary and pic from

My Review: One thing that I have really appreciated about reading BIPOC authors is their ability to create an authentic setting of language and speech patterns, place, and cultural norms. This is not to say that there aren’t some authors who do a really good job of going outside of their cultural backgrounds and discussing and creating an environment that feels authentic, but I think that if you have read BIPOC stories that aren’t by BIPOC authors you’ve been missing out.

I enjoyed the story in Winter Counts. I do enjoy a good crime story, especially one that’s tense and guttural and feels legit. This is definitely one of those. It’s fast paced but also measured in its movement. There’s an appropriate amount of stuff happening and also the characters being forced to wait for something to happen. This is actually a difficult balance to achieve. There are some books where things happen AllAtOnce so that it feels like the timeline isn’t realistic. You know how tense situations are—sometimes the tension is the wait. No matter how quickly things are moving and how horrible the things that are happening, there are still the interspersed moments where you’re just waiting. For the next thing to happen. For results. Or waiting to hear back. You know what I mean. The tension is also in the wait. David Heska Wanbli Weiden does a good job of this. There are times when things are happening and it just seems like the pacing is relentless, and then there is the tension of the wait. The pacing is great in this book.

However, far and away my favorite part of reading this book was the cultural immersion. I love seeing what it’s like to be in someone else’s life. It’s one of my favorite parts of reading. There is no way that I can experience everything, be everywhere, meet everyone, but I can read, and reading brings me an empathy and an understanding that is sometimes better. If I were to visit an Indian reservation (I grew up about 25 miles from a Native American reservation, so this has happened in my life many times) I would never be able to fully understand the culture or customs or even the interactions. Reading about it gives me the chance to understand and relate. What things are different? What things are the same? How can I be more sensitive to what is going on with his culture that I am not necessarily familiar? It is a great responsibility of every reader to decide what they’ll do with the information that they have gained from a book they have read, and I feel like David Heska Wanbli Weiden created a novel that allows the reader to understand and relate. He doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the plight of indigenous people in this country, nor does he shy away from who those problems were created by. I appreciated this. It’s hard to talk about change and responsibility if we can’t even acknowledge the problem.

On the surface, this crime book is a 3 star. The story is good and its tense, but I would say it’s run of the mill. I’ve read lots of good crime books that are very similar to this and I give them a three. However, the cultural relevance and exploration of a culture that is very much alive and part of the human experience and making this exploration very tangible and accessible warrants five stars. I’m settling on a rating in the middle.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and violence in this book. It is not more violent than others in the genre.

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