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by Margaret Coel
Berkley, September 2003
276 pages
ISBN: 042519261X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

One distinct pleasure I had while working on a mystery convention some years ago was making the acquaintance of then-new writer Margaret Coel. It's been a pleasure to watch this rise of this talented woman's career.

In Killing Raven, Coel tackles the ambiguous issue of casinos on Indian reservations. These developments have brought in, as I understand it, lots and lots of money into formerly impoverished reservation lands. Sometimes they bring jobs; they also bring traffic, strangers, and, well, gambling. Casinos are, by definition, money makers and big business; and as such, they attract unwelcome attention. Coel shows a lot of the conflicts in the growth of these casinos; that they might encourage gambling among folks who really can't afford to gamble, that they can attract organized crime folks who see them as profit centers and money laundries. And yet, people travels for miles to play at a casino and there's lots of money to be made and one hopes, work to be had.

The Wind River reservation has a new casino. Attorney Adam Lone Eagle, a Lakota whom Vicky knows and likes, has taken a job with the casino management and asks Vicky to help out. Vicky could use the business and the money, although she's a bit uneasy about what she is told by tribal elders about how things are done there. There's a story, or rumor at least, that only people with certain connections can work at the casino, and even then, they sometimes appear to be dummies, sort of front men for the non-Indians who really run things. Add to that a group of angry opponents of the casino, who are trying to stop people from going there, based on vague arguments against the evils of gambling. This group, run by a very creepy white guy, might have some valid points, but they're not winning any adherents. In fact, they appear to be dangerous.

Complicating things is the discovery of a man's body, his widow's determination that somehow Father John knows who murdered the man, and the seeming disappearance of the young woman who found the victim. Her nasty boyfriend is one of the people protesting the casino, and his behavior is rather suspect.

At one point, on what I thought was fairly flimsy evidence, Father John is able to intuit that something has happened to Vicky and to know where she is and that she needs help. It was iffy, but not completely unbelievable; these two people clearly have a connection, and perhaps, he does know how she thinks. They have, after all been close for several years, and they care about each other. My other minor gripe, which doesn't truly affect my liking for this story is a problem with "Captain Jack Monroe". who leads the casino opponents; I just didn't find him or his motives were very clear. He's nasty and opinionated and controlling, but why?

A key theme in this series has always been the love between two unlikely people; Father John O'Malley, a troubled but truly dedicated Catholic priest and Arapaho Vicky Holden. Vicky is finally out from under the control of an abusive husband (she divorced him but that didn't seem to stop the assumptions of many people, including the in-denial husband), but she is tied to her people, her life and the pressures of both. In this tale, that relationship moves forward, in a way. I admire Coel for taking on the topic to start with - it's always been well-wrought, meaningful, without pathos and she skillfully explores the boundaries of love and friendship. And while some series fall apart when the romantic or sexual tensions change, as they do in Killing Raven, what happens here is a natural and, if you will, logical and even right development and I think the series can not only withstand it, but will do just fine, thank you.

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, August 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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