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The Girl with Braided Hair    by Margaret Coel order for
Girl with Braided Hair
by Margaret Coel
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

In this latest case occupying the unlikely team of Father John O'Malley and Vicky Holden, the author shows her expertise yet again. A woman's skeleton is found buried in an unmarked grave in the desert. It is clear that the unknown died a violent and ugly death; she haunts Vicky's thoughts and unsettles many women on the reservation. Vicky is now a successful lawyer, dealing with the kinds of cases she has always wanted, cases to advance native rights. However, like too many other women, on the Arapaho reservation and off it, she has known abuse as well as discrimination. She is determined that the victim be given justice and her identity discovered, so that she can be given proper burial.

Investigation reveals that the young woman died in 1973 and had ties to the American Indian Movement. Whatever AIM's lofty goals, it also caused deep rifts in native communities. Vicky receives little cooperation from those who were close to the AIM movement. Worse, she and another woman are threatened when they persist. It is evident that the murderer is still on the reservation, equally clear that he is willing to kill again to keep his secrets. However, Vicky is unable to leave the investigation to authorities who, she fears, may simply write it off as a very cold case. And as she perseveres, the killer's warnings become more and more deadly.

Coel weaves a compelling tale with very human characters, dealing with their own problems as well as the crime puzzle at the heart of the plot. The victim is not a mere statistic and the catalyst for an investigation; she is a person who hoped and dreamed and lived and feared until that last moment when a selfish and ruthless killer decided she stood in his way. Similarly, we see into the lives of Vicky and Father John, who are struggling with changing circumstances - and as we all know, change can be very unwelcome. Coel has an impressive background in native history as well as the talent to bring her characters to life. The Girl with Braided Hair is an engrossing read.

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