If you enjoy rural crime writing that offers unique characters and vividly evoked settings along with intriguing plotlines laced with real-life issues, then run, don’t walk to add Marcie R. Rendon’s superb books starring tough Ojibwe teenager Cash Blackbear to your must-read pile.
Set during the Vietnam War among the grain and sugar beet fields and small towns along the Red River that splits North Dakota and Minnesota, Rendon’s excellent series centers on a fascinating teenage heroine who survived family tragedy and foster care and now juggles truck driving with college classes, pool hustling, and occasionally helping her guardian and friend Sheriff Wheaton solve crimes.
In this absorbing third novel, Cash’s brother has returned to Vietnam and a snowmelt has flooded the fields and towns of the Red River Valley. The body of an unidentified Native woman is discovered among the detritus, and Sheriff Wheaton hopes Cash can help. Could the torn piece of a hymnal written in English and Ojibwe found on the woman’s body lead to her identity? Cash’s sleuthing takes her back to the White Earth Reservation, a place she once called home, as well as into the lives of an array of fascinating characters: a charismatic pastor of a fundamentalist church and his wife; a dark ghostly presence; and a medicine woman. More dead women and danger lurks everywhere as Cash drives across the prairie seeking answers.
With Sinister Graves, Rendon delivers much more than a very good murder mystery, using a character-centric tale to explore the prejudice and injustice faced by Native Americans. Cash Blackbear is an extraordinary heroine who’s easy to ride along with. Rendon strikes a great tone, with a light touch while delving into some very serious issues, such as the (mis)treatment of young women and all the ways Native peoples have been oppressed, and worse.
Only three books in, Rendon’s created an addictive series that stands out in the sea of rural mysteries. It’d be easy to say “one for fans of Tony Hillerman,” or “If you loved Winter Counts, read Marcie R. Rendon”—both of which would be true. But more than that, Sinister Graves and the entire series is something great for any fan of well-written mysteries in rural settings.
We can only hope that in the years to come many more Cash Blackbear books will fill our shelves.