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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Killing Custer: Custer vs. Arapahos in 2013

Killing Custer by Margaret Coel is a contemporary mystery that deals with historical re-enactment.  I actually know a number of medieval re-enactors and a few Victorian re-enactors , but all these people are hobbyists.  There isn't one of them who truly believes that he or she is a historical personage re-born.  I will not say that such a thing is impossible.  Reincarnation is a cherished belief of  Hinduism, Buddhism and a number of other religions.  Yet in the context of historical re-enactment, a belief that you really are the role you play can cause some serious difficulties in your relationships with the real people with whom you are currently interacting.  This is seen in the lives of several characters in Killing Custer.

I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher, Berkeley Prime Crime, through the good offices of the author's publicist, Julia Drake.


I've read other books in Margaret Coel's Wind River mystery series that takes place on the Wind River Arapaho reservation.  My favorite is The Spirit Woman which deals with Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark.

While doing a search on Margaret Coel for this review, I discovered that she has also written an award winning history book on a real Arapaho historical personage.  Here's the page about this work of history on Margaret Coel's website: Chief Left Hand  .  It is among the resources listed in the bibliography at the end of the Wikipedia article Chief Niwot . Niwot  means left hand in the Arapaho language.

The connection that the biography of Chief Niwot has to the book I'm currently reviewing is that he was most probably a victim of the Sand Creek Massacre. Custer and his troops were responsible for a very similar atrocity known as the Washita Massacre which forms part of the historical background for Killing Custer.

Since I am fairly familiar with Custer's history, I thought the most interesting aspect of this novel was legal rather than historical.  Protagonist Vicky Holden is an Arapaho lawyer who has frequently taken pro bono cases for Arapaho clients.  Since this is well known among the Arapaho, I would have imagined that a case in which multiple parties were Arapaho could have led Vicky into a conflict of interest situation in an earlier book.  Conflict of interest is an important issue in legal ethics which does arise very poignantly for Vicky in Killing Custer in a way that I hadn't expected.  Even when there isn't an actual conflict, lawyers want to avoid any possibility that there might be one because the repercussions of such an involvement could end a lawyer's career. To learn more see Rule 1.7 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct on the American Bar Association website.

Yet what I enjoy most about the Wind River series is the friendship between Vicky Holden and co-protagonist Father John O'Malley, who is a priest at the St. Francis Mission on the Wind River Reservation.  There are some wonderful  moments in this friendship during the events of Killing Custer that will gratify the fans of this series.  So I will give my fellow Margaret Coel fans a heads up that this latest installment in the Wind River series will be available very soon.  It is slated for release on September 3, 2013.


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