New Release Review: Winter Counts

Man, do I love a good thriller. There is some about a good crime mystery that really gets my brain moving.

Before Winter Counts, I had never heard of David Heska Wanbli Weiden before. I did know that this novel was the Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Debut and Best Mystery/Thriller for this year – so I knew that something special was going on here.

Virgil Wounded Horse is the vigilante, the hired thug, of his Lakota reservation. He is often hired to dish out his special brand of punishment when the justice system fails the people. When heroin makes it way onto his reservation and into this hands of his teenage nephew, Nathan, the case finally hits home for Virgil. He and his ex-girlfriend, Marie, dive in head first to find out how the drugs are getting into the reservation and wind up making their way to Denver, where drug cartels have formed an alliance with one of their own. As Virgil unravels the scheme, he realizes that his Native American heritage is more important to him than ever before.

I gave Winter Counts a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. While I enjoyed Virgil’s story, I’ll admit that while it was good…it wasn’t great. It was a unique spin on the old “one man against the world” storyline. It clocked in at a little over 300 pages, and I downed it in two sittings.

So many things rocked about this book. The pacing was perfect. There is nothing worse than a crime novel where the crime takes so long to solve we forget what the actual crime is. Despite being a vigilante, Virgil is a really nice guy and I cared about him and his nephew. I felt like I had buckled up and was along for the ride. Weiden crafts this fictional story around an actual reality: Native people are not able to prosecute crimes that occur on their own territory. Because of this, many serious crimes are neglected by the U.S. legal system – which is why someone like Virgil exists in the first place. It was interesting to read and I liked it.

Things that made me go hmmm. Weiden falls into a “debut author” pitfall. There are sometimes too many things going on without a better reason to have it happen. We could have done without Virgil’s relationship with Marie. Marie is a much needed character and helps develop the plot, but the relationship between the two could have been either played up or eliminated. Certain pieces of this story needed more detailed fleshed out to make it more useful to the story.

Should you read it? Yes. And I think you’ll like it, too. And if you’re curious to learn more about these very real legal issues that Native American people face every day, take a look at the Native American Rights Fund. This shit is unfortunately a reality that most people are totally unaware of.

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