Book Review: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

  Winter Counts  by David Heska Wanbli Weiden Genre:  Crime thriller Synopsis:   Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud I...


Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Genre: Crime thriller

Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.

They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.

Content/Trigger Warnings: Sexual assault, pedophilia abuse, suicidal ideation, violence, death of child, racism/slurs, classism, drug abuse, alcoholism

Overall rating:  ★★★★☆

I've noticed over the past several months an influx of Indigenous-authored books on Book of the Month, so I've been pumped to pick those up and discover some really great books recently. Winter Counts was one of those books, and it was incredibly good. I read the entire thing in just a day, because I was so immersed in the story.

This book was so interesting because of the mix in it being a crime thriller, but also being a social commentary about the opioid crisis and how Native lands and tribes are more disproportionately impacted by these types of crises, and it's often due to politics and power. This isn't a recent issue, it's literally how the US was founded. But I think was even more incredible in this particular story was Virgil's struggle against his own Native identity and the development he experiences throughout the storyline. As a society in the US, there's a lot of expectation for people behave a certain way based on their race, ethnicity, or culture. I think part of this story's purpose is to share how we can't run away from or escape our identities, especially when we're often judged by our visible identities. But we can learn to accept our identities and we aren't only the identities that people can see.

"...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."

I really enjoyed diving into a wonderfully well-written procedural crime thriller with vigilante justice, but I also really loved being able to learn more about Native culture and many of the issues that reservations face to this day. As mentioned, the character develop (specifically, and maybe really only) for Virgil was phenomenal. I would love to follow along with him again if he were to go out and crack more cases - though I'm not really sure the book is set up to continue. Winter Counts was a wonderful debut novel that was so different than other crime thrillers I've read in the past.

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