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Buffalo Bill's Defunct: A Latouche County Mystery by Sheila Simonson
Review by Don Metzler
Perseverance Press Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781880284964
Date: 09 September 2008 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

When librarian Meg McLean arrives at her new home in Klalo, Latouche County, Washington, the last thing she expects to find in the garage is a corpse.

Parking her U-Haul in the driveway, she unloads a few essentials, then makes a closer inspection of the two-story Victorian that she had purchased on a whim several months earlier. Her only viewing of the property had been so brief, Meg can't even remember whether she had bothered to look inside the detached, one-car garage. The heavy, hinged doors do not easily budge, but on the third try she manages to swing them open. An unpleasant odor greets her, as if a stray cat has perhaps wandered inside and died. It is dusk, and quickly getting darker, so Meg shrugs and decides it would be better to wait until morning to have a closer look.

A couple of hours later, Meg's new neighbor Rob Neill, who happens to be an investigator for the Latouche County Sheriff's Department, knocks at her door. He had noticed a neighborhood dog digging at the dirt floor of Meg's garage, and the body that Towser has unearthed is not that of a cat. A fragment of an ancient petroglyph is found next to the body, a clue that possibly ties this crime to an unsolved theft from ten years prior... a case that Rob, in his early days as a Sheriff's investigator, had badly botched.

The Latouche County Sheriff's Department is small, undermanned and underfunded. So when Meg offers her services as a research librarian free of charge to the department, Rob eagerly accepts. Rob and Meg work together to try to unravel the ten-year-old mystery of the stolen Native American artifacts, and how that theft may be related to the corpse that was buried in Meg's garage. But they are unaware that a parallel, unofficial investigation is already underway, on the orders of Madeline Thomas, the stubborn and purposeful chief of the Klalo tribe.

Then two more corpses turn up. Unlike the body in the garage, these new killings are fresh and extremely violent, and at first seem inexplicable. When there is an attempt on Rob's life, the hunt for the killer intensifies. It's time for Meg to step back and confine herself to her role as research librarian, and leave the dangerous work to the police. But will she listen?

Buffalo Bill's Defunct is a good story and a good read, well-paced and engaging. There is no dearth of action and dramatic tension, as well as a bit of romantic tension. Simonson's characters are real people who stand out as distinctive personalities, and lend the story a down-to-earth quality. But the local color, along with descriptions of the Columbia River and its mixed culture, are what really make this story soar.

At times, the reader may question whether the motivations of the bad guys are entirely plausible, in terms of being sufficient to justify the level of violence to which they resort. But this flaw is minor, and may be overlooked in a novel that otherwise captivates the reader and keeps him turning pages until the very end. And besides, if we didn't have bad guys, plausible or not, we wouldn't have a mystery.

Sheila Simonson's writing will resonate with readers of Margaret Coel, James Doss, Peter Bowen, and other authors of crime fiction who have woven their stories into the rich backdrop of contemporary Native American culture. The late Tony Hillerman was the father of this sub-genre, and Sheila Simonson is another in the line of fine writers who can thank Tony for having paved the way. If you are unfamiliar with Sheila Simonson, but are a fan of any of the other authors mentioned here, pick up a copy of Buffalo Bill's Defunct. You won't be sorry.

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