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A Dead Man's Tale (Charlie Moon Mysteries) by James D. Doss
Review by Don Metzler
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312613693
Date: 09 November 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

"Save your lies, old witch – I'll do the talking. Here's what's going to happen next." Perez thumped her left earlobe with the butcher knife's cold steel blade. "First, I'll slice off your ears and nose and make you eat 'em." A pleased smile split his broad face. "And then you know what I'm gonna do?" Feeding on the fear in Daisy's eyes, the sadist delighted in telling her. "I'll cut out your tongue and stuff that down your gullet."

Daisy gulped. The aged woman knew he wasn't bluffing. But if the tribal elder could not manage a vicious kick, she did carry a big walking stick – and knew what to do with it.

And she did.

The sensible part of Daisy’s mind screamed, Run!

The other 99 percent was inclined to disagree. Don't leave until you’ve finished the bastard off.

Irascible Daisy Perika, Ute tribal elder and Charlie Moon's aunt, seems to have gotten herself into another thorny predicament. As usual, the circumstances that led to this potentially deadly confrontation have absolutely nothing to do with Daisy. But the elderly Ute shaman has always had a way of insinuating her presence into matters that are really none of her business, and she is about to do it again.

The story actually begins with a visit to Granite Creek Chief of Police Scott Parris by a former professor of physics turned entrepreneur, Samuel Reed, Ph.D. Reed approaches Parris with a request for special protection. It seems that the successful financier has experienced a prescient vision of his own murder, which is to take place in approximately one month's time. Reed can even supply the exact day and time of his impending demise. Parris at first dismisses the man's assertions as being at the very least eccentric, and possibly better described as wacky and wholly unbelievable. But when the extremely wealthy Reed couches his proposal in the form of a wager – at ten-to-one odds, no less – inveterate gambler Parris cannot resist the temptation. The financier offers to bet against his own survival. All Scott must do is ensure that Samuel Reed is still alive after June 4th, and then he can collect his winnings. Easy money, Parris thinks.

'Easy money' is the same thought that passes through the mind of Charlie Moon, cattle rancher and former tribal investigator, who also happens to be Scott Parris' best friend. Purely by coincidence, Charlie becomes a party to this strange meeting between Reed and Parris. And to Moon, ten-to-one odds are just too good to pass up. He's determined to get some of that action for himself. And he does.

The first thing that Scott and Charlie must do is determine whether any legitimate threat to Samuel Reed's life may actually exist, and this will require a subtle investigation into the backgrounds of Reed's associates, as well as those of his lovely trophy wife, Irene.

All of which sets the stage for Daisy Perika's unwanted interference. For any time there is something unusual going on in Charlie Moon's world, Daisy's ears prick up like sensitive antennae. The inquisitive (some would say snooping) Ute elder once again barges smack into the middle of the investigation that Parris and Moon are conducting, with near-disastrous results.

A Dead Man's Tale is classic Doss – an artful interweaving of intrigue, down-home humor, and Native American spiritualism. The narrative at times seems to meander, but meandering is Doss' preferred method of storytelling. He has no desire to lead the reader on a breathless, whirlwind journey to unmask the depravities of the criminal mind. Rather, he would allow us to wander for chapters at a time, often seemingly aimlessly, until at last, lulled by the bucolic language and pace, we arrive at a satisfactory destination. It is a style that works very well for Doss.

After fourteen previous books in this series, the central characters are well-known and dear to us: the contentious Ute elder and shaman Daisy Perika; the dyspeptic, antacid-popping Chief of Police, Scott Parris; teenage Ute-Papago orphan Sarah Frank, who openly pines for the much older Charlie Moon; and the great man himself, who in this installment is forced to juggle the conflicting demands of trying to save his failing cattle ranch and unraveling the mystery of Samuel Reed's supposed psychic vision of his own death, while at the same time hoping against hope that Daisy Perika and Sarah Frank can keep themselves out of trouble for once. Fat chance.

Fans of James Doss will love this one. Readers who are unfamiliar with Doss need to get with it. A Dead Man's Tale would be as good a place as any to begin getting to know this writer's work.

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