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.
... 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.