Margaret Coel’s Eagle Catcher

Margaret Coel, The Eagle Catcher (©1995, Berkley Prime Crime 1996)

It think it was Julius Lester who named Margaret Coel  as one of  his favourite crime writers. And Tony Hillerman has provided a cover quote for this paperback: ‘Shouldn’t be missed … a master!’ I love Lester’s writing, and Hillerman’s, so these recommendations carried weight with me.

This is the first of the Wind River Reservation Mysteries, also known as the Arapaho Indian Mysteries, and I put it down to teething problems that it’s a bit clunky in places, a bit obvious as a whodunnit and a bit predictable in its climactic scene. But I’m not sure I read crime novels for the puzzle any more, if I ever did, or for the fine writing or innovative plotting. Often it’s the milieu that counts: Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh, Henning Mankell’s Sweden (but not Africa), Tony Hillerman’s Dinee. That, and the appeal of following a detective – whether it’s Lord Peter Wimsey or Sam Spade – through a series of reassuringly similar mazes. This book has the Arapaho reservation in Wyoming, which bears a strong resemblance to Tony Hillerman’s Navajo reservation in New Mexico, but does have a life of its own, and a pair of detectives – a tall redheaded Jesuit and a Arapaho woman lawyer – who offer a multitude of possibilities: a definite mutual attraction that each of them has to suppress, and a hint at the end that their collaboration will continue.

And then there’s the no-pressure history lesson about contact between whites (Niatha) and Arapaho, and the easy-to-take introduction to aspects of Arapaho culture.

Excellent for reading on the plane.

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