... hard-boiled ... Wholly satisfying, the novel builds to a violent, action-packed denouement, leaving space for a sequel ... However, in its adoption of hard-boiled tropes, the novel doesn’t also assume the cynical attitudes of Mike Hammer or Sam Spade or sink into nihilism. Rather, it juxtaposes these tropes against the heartfelt story of a wounded mixed-race man coming into his Native identity ... a riveting yet soulful reimagining of hard-boiled crime fiction for an era in which systemic rot seems to be routinely uncovered.
One of a crime novel’s great pleasures can be its setting: When conventional story elements (loner protagonist, a puzzling crime, the occasional red herring) are developed within a vivid and convincingly rendered community, even the most avid detective novel fans are rewarded with fresh insight into the durable charms of the whodunit ... Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden delivers such an experience, using familiar aspects of genre to say something new about America’s violence, past and present ... One of the strongest aspects of Winter Counts is how Virgil, who is clear-eyed about the U.S.’s systemic oppression of Native people, struggles with whether and how to incorporate traditional culture into his life and work ... Readers will root for the strong, good-hearted Virgil and his fight to protect his family, and his community. When he restarts a relationship with his ex Marie, the novel brings forward a deepened emotional complexity – and a strong character whose dream of med school is complicated by the politics of tribal education ... One wishes for more of Marie’s story apart from her perhaps inevitable sidekick role in the investigation plot. And while some readers may correctly suspect who the true bad guy is long before the reveal, there is plenty to enjoy in the journey to the novel’s satisfying conclusion ... a compelling read and an insightful perspective on identity and power in America.
On the surface, David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s debut novel, Winter Counts, is somewhat typical for its genre: Bad guys disrupt the status quo when they muscle into the community, pushing bad drugs on an unsuspecting and highly susceptible teen population, until a vigilante or detective pushes back. The difference here is the setting on the Lakota reservation, the clash of policies between the U.S. government and Native American life, and the internal conflicts of the novel’s main characters ... Weiden, who is a member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, elevates an otherwise routine crime novel with Native American culture and traditions, political differences and organized crime. His well-rendered, emotionally charged characters do the rest.
... a knowing, revealing look at life on a reservation. The resentment and mistrust that many Indians feel toward white people is palpable, whether disinterested or corrupt officials, or wasicus who claimed reservation land during the allotment time, or tourists seeking 'poverty porn.' Virgil decries the focus that white journalists place on the negative and the stereotypical, but he also makes us see the sadness and evils that pockmark the reservation: drugs, suicide, alcoholism, poverty, despair...But the spirit, joy, pride and resilience of Native people also comes through these pages: respect for elders, the hunger for education and meaningful work, a growing interest in Lakota language, customs and traditions.
Weiden is from a branch of the Lakota tribe himself, and his book relies on deep research into its history and traditions. Winter Counts is written with a light touch and a good deal of humor and sobering truths about Native American life.
... a remarkable debut novel ... This Native noir gem introduces an interesting and complex protagonist in Virgil Wounded Horse, who refuses to conform to the expectations of what is and what is not a 21st-century Native American. Add a right-now, real-world problem as an anchor for the plot, and the result is a one-sit read that will leave you wanting more ... Weiden saves plenty of surprises and the majority of the violence for the final quarter of the book. He does an exceptional job of matter-of-factly describing the cringe-inducing poverty rampant on the reservation, which may well (and should) make readers appreciative of their own situation, however dire it might seem. Weiden also treats his audience like grown-ups, tossing out Indian terms in the vernacular so that one might spend some time digging up interpretive meanings of individual words, as well as using online slang dictionaries ... Immersing a reader in unfamiliar terms isn’t a bad thing, but it might break the reading flow for some. A separate glossary included in the next installment of the series might be helpful. And, yes, I am hoping that there will be a book two and more beyond that.
... something of a tweener. It begins as hard-edged crime fiction as Virgil beats the crap out of someone who has it coming to him while taking a bit of punishment in return. It looks as though we’ve got ourselves another hard-boiled protagonist with the kind of edge fans of American noir can’t get enough of ... As the novel progresses, however, Weiden moves him into situations that seem more aligned with domestic suspense than hard-assed noir ... while the author pitches his hero to us up front as a hard-edged leg breaker on a mission, his attempts to mix inter-personal suspense and love interest into the story end up making Virgil an annoyingly inconsistent character. Perhaps in part because the narrative is first-person and we get a lot of state-of-mind analysis from Virgil, he ends up fluctuating between an immature, half-formed person and a man focused on what needs to be done—a tweener who fails to nail down a solid identity in the story ... The strength of the novel, on the other hand, lies in his treatment of the Rosebud reservation setting and its attendant characters ... a notable debut by an author who clearly has many important and insightful things to say about life on the reservation. Once he makes up his mind what kind of crime fiction he wants to write and finds a way to remain consistent with his choice throughout, David Heska Wanbli Weiden will build an audience that won’t hesitate to grab his next one off the rack or click on 'Buy Now' on the Web site.
Weiden’s cantering, engrossing, and culturally revelatory debut crime novel is propelled by vital and affecting Native American characters facing the endless repercussions of the genocidal past, ongoing racism and injustice, and cruel betrayals within their besieged community. Suspenseful, gritty, gruffly endearing, and resonant, Weiden’s thriller, with its illumination of Lakota spiritual traditions and hopes raised for Virgil’s evolution from thug to sleuth, launches a promising and meaningful series.
Weiden’s series launch sheds much-needed light on the legal and societal barriers facing Native Americans while also delivering a suspenseful thriller that builds to a bloody climax. A worthy addition to the burgeoning canon of indigenous literature.
... gorgeous ... The novel twists delicately around various personal conflicts while artfully addressing issues related to the politics of the reservation. Weiden combines funny, complex, and unforgettable characters with strong, poetic prose. This is crime fiction at its best.