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The Drowning Man    by Margaret Coel order for
Drowning Man
by Margaret Coel
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Pat Elliott

Margaret Coel's beloved characters spring to life again in this latest in her series featuring the Wind River Reservation. Native American Lawyer Vicky Holden and Father John O'Malley join forces, each in their own special way, to solve the mystery of The Drowning Man. O'Malley, who runs St. Francis Mission, has become as much a part of the reservation as the dust and ancient rituals.

The Drowning Man is the second ancient petroglyph to be stolen from Red Cliff Canyon. It depicts a human figure struggling underwater. The first theft is still unsolved, and resulted in the murder of one man and the incarceration of another. Arapahos believe the petroglyph and others alongside it were carved by the spirits. The land around the petroglyphs is considered sacred. But it is not part of the reservation. The Bureau of Land Management controls Red Cliff Canyon and they want to build a logging road right through it.

Fearing the destruction of the petroglyphs by tourists and thieves, Vicky and her law partner Adam Long Eagle are retained to help the Indians lawfully keep the area free and relatively safe from destruction. Father John becomes involved when the thieves contact him demanding ransom for the ancient artifact.

Tension is the mark of a good mystery novel. This book is remarkable in that it has more tension than a politician has promises. Coel uses the tensions of everyday events on the reservation to craft a believable and inviting chapter in the lives of her protagonists.

Vicky and Father John are undeniably attracted to each other. Obviously this attraction cannot be explored, but the love they feel for each other is there hovering beneath the surface. Each has their own demons to demolish. Vicky, after a life of abuse from her husband, left him and her children to pursue a law degree. Her desertion has earned her the title of Woman Alone. She is not fully accepted on the reservation but is needed for her knowledge of white man's law. Father John's demon is alcohol. He has been sober for ten years but fights the craving daily. He loves the mission he serves and is constantly afraid he will be relocated.

To thievery, add murder, harassment, danger and cruelty to the mix and you can see why it has been said Coel is up there alongside Tony Hillerman as a superb writer and historian of modern day Indian life.

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