Monday, October 12, 2020

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Protagonist Virgil Winter Horse, is an enforcer, an old-fashioned vigilante who metes out justice and revenge on those the system won’t punish. In the United States, if a felony occurs on tribal land, the federal government makes the decision whether to prosecute and too often they don’t. Virgil notes, “. . . they didn’t mess with anything short of murder.” “It was open season for raping any Native woman, so long as the rape occurred on Indian land.” When people can’t count on justice, they often seek out informal ways of gaining retribution and Virgil is happy to oblige. He’s an Iyeska, a term literally meaning “speaks white” that is commonly used derogatorily for someone of mixed blood. Virgil was thus tormented as a child and he later became an alcoholic. Now sober, he’s the guardian of his 14-year-old nephew Nathan and is rekindling a relationship with his former girlfriend Marie. 

When Nathan almost dies of an overdose, Virgil reconnects with Marie to stop the drug trafficking and gain revenge on people who’d hurt him and those he loved. While Winter Counts is a tense mystery, it’s also a glimpse into Virgil’s struggles with accepting traditional Native culture and spirituality. Virgil is still grieving the loss of his sister and he visits her grave to make sense of the world. On one visit, he notes: 

“What I’d discovered was that sadness is like an abandoned car left out in a field for good — it changes a little over the years, but doesn’t ever disappear. You may forget about it for a while, but it’s still there, rusting away, until you notice it again.”

Weiden is a Sicangu Lakota Nation member and he makes acute observations on native culture. Before she died, Virgil’s mother told him, “See everything as you go. I think she meant that I needed to be aware of the world as it really existed, not the way I wanted it to be. Indian awareness.”

This is a debut novel that makes the reader aware of the world as it really exists in all its beauty and sorrow. There are indications that this is the first in a coming series. This reader can’t wait for the next installment.

Summing it Up: Read Winter Counts for a suspense-filled debut  thriller that offers insight into the systemic racism Native Americans face along with the hope they find in tribal traditions, family, and identity. Devour it in one sitting for the page-turning drama then return to ponder it for your book club discussion.

Rating: 5 stars 

Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Mysteries and Thrillers, Super Nutrition, Book Club

Publication Date: August 25, 2020

Author Website:

Interview with the Author:

What Others Are Saying:

“[A] revelatory debut crime novel propelled by vital and affecting Native American characters facing the endless repercussions of the genocidal past, ongoing racism and injustice, and cruel betrayals within their besieged community. Suspenseful, gritty, gruffly endearing, and resonant . . . ”.  — Booklist

A marvel.  A thriller with a beating heart and jagged teeth. . . I couldn’t put it down.”

—Tommy Orange, author of There There

Kirkus Reviews: 

Publishers Weekly:

SF Chronicle:

Washington Post: