Indian Killer (1996)
Author: Sherman Alexie
A full blooded Indian boy is born into this world only to be immediately taken from his natural mother and adopted by a white couple who give the Indian boy his unfortunate name...John Smith. The boy's only Indian companion growing up is a a full-blooded Indian Priest, Father Duncan. But this priest is a troubled man who has emotional breakdowns and one day walks into the desert and out of the young boy's life forever. The boy grows up to become a powerful man. However, he has a mental illness. His white parents have always known John was a little off but he never hurt any one. Smith doesn't think he's a white man or a "real" Indian. He doesn't know how "real" Indians laugh, smile, or talk. His behavior turns more bizarre and he murders his first victim, a white man. With each new disappearance, the city of Seattle erupts with racial violence: whites turning on Indians with baseball bats and Indians beating whites. A racist white radio disc jockey spreads the violent fire with racially charged on-air banter. An intelligent and fiery female Indian student, Marie Polatkin, stands up to her patronizing and wanna-be Indian white professor. A writer who claims to be part Indian, though none of Seattle's large Indian community embrace him, tries to capture the situation in his writing of his novel, "Indian Killer." All of these characters become involved in the murders that rock the city. The disappearance of a young white boy from his bed, with the only clue left being two owl feathers, ignites even more violence. SPOILER: Although Smith kills many in this book he spares the young boy, yet the damage to the city has been done.
Geographical Location: Seattle, Washington, and other Western states
Time Period: Modern day (1996)
This story has a fast pace, bitter humor, intelligent and intense dialogue. A haunting and deeply-flawed cast of characters reveal the physically weak as usually being the morally strong (Polatkin and her wheel-chaired van driver) and the physically powerful are usually ethically bankrupt (the gangs of Indians and whites who pick out easy targets to intimidate.) Marie Polatkin is an unforgettable secondary character; a female character that is at times tough, witty, and compassionate and any reader looking for a capable female character, need not look further. Also, any reader looking for honest dialogue on the issue of racism in America today will get a great dose of this discussion in the book. Alexie, keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, as each new killing or kidnapping immediately heightens the danger for everone involved. Like it or not...the killings drive this story. Throw in Alexie's ability to harness Seattle's rainy and dreary clime and the mood only gets darker. Also, Alexie gives the reader revealing glimpses of the killer's psychology and personal past, allowing the reader to see the killer's motivations, resulting in the reader actually sympathizing with the serial killer. Not often does this happen in fiction.
Read-alikes: If you liked Alexie's acerbic wit, unique humor, and unforgettable characters then you should defintiely try Ten Little Indians by him. For additional read-alikes for the suspenseful aspects of this book read authors William Bayer and John Connolly. Louise Erdrich, Tony Hillerman, and Ian Frazier write engaging books with Native American themes as well.
Red Flags: Violence, Racial Issues, and some pretty grotesque images (picking out someone's eye and one or two descriptive scalpings.)