Thursday, August 15, 2013


In Death Along the Spirit Road, C.M. Wendelboe's Manny Tanno reminded me of Arthur W. Upfield's Napoleon Bonapart (Bony).

Both men stand astride two cultures. Both are strong investigators because of what they learned in their “more primitive” culture. And both have reputations for always solving a case. (The one case they did not solve, they solved but chose to cover up the guilty person.)

Both author's books stress setting, history and cultural identity above all else.

In Death Along the Spirit Road, Manny's unbearable FBI superior assigns him to investigate a murder on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation. Manny has been distant from the reservation. As a Native American youth, he never had a power vision.

So Manny is reluctant to go back.

When he gets there, he finds his high school enemy is acting police chief, but Manny knows he won't be reassigned. He has to solve the case.

Someone murdered a Native American property developer. The man was planning a resort. The resort might have brought jobs and prosperity to the reservation.

The man himself was on the edge of his culture, not respected by the remaining American Indian Movement (AIM) survivors. Manny's brother Ruben is among those survivors.

This book tells a lot about AIM history. It describes the Native American view of what most of us outsiders only knew from biased TV reports.

The people's history is the murder's backstory.

Manny works through the case using his special investigative ability. “They tell me you have an uncanny ability to look at cases objectively,” [Clara] said. “To shuffle through the heap of information and come away with just the right pieces of the puzzle.”

His unique objectivity leads Manny Tanno to conclusions he hates.

And Manny's experience leads him to finally have his power vision.

As you can tell, there is much to like about this book. Some parts of the book were too contrived for me. Too many people hated Manny Tanno. He was in too many automobile accidents. (He is a terrible driver.) His enemies physically attacked him one too many times. And too many women came on to him.

But, I loved reading the history, and I enjoyed the story.

All in all, I recommend Death Along the Spirit Road. 

QUOTATIONS FROM Death Along the Spirit Road--

Unc believed that Lakota children chose their parents, not the other way around. Lakota call their children inipi, sacred, and Unc lived that as well.
Generosity, fortitude, bravery, and wisdom where the four Lakota virtues. Duty was Manny's virtue.
Pine Ridge was smack in the middle of the poorest county in the nation, yet all its people wanted was respect.


Kelly Robinson said...

I've never heard of this author, but he comparison to Upfield is promising. (I actually came to Upfield via Kinky Friedman, who named a character after him.)

Joe Barone said...

C.M. Wendelboe is not nearly as good as Upfield. I hope I conveyed that in the last paragraphs of what I wrote. Still, at least in this book, there were similarities.