Winter's Child by Margaret Coel is the 20th Wind River Mystery as Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Father John O’Malley discover that a centuries-old mystery is tied to a modern-day crime on the Wind River Reservation.
There are three elements I consider essential for a great detective story: fascinating lead characters, a compelling mystery, and a setting that feels as if the reader can step into that world.
Winter’s Child by Margaret Coel—the 20th book in her Wind River series—contains two of those three elements. Well, two and a half. While I felt only half of the detective team was compelling as a lead, I suspect the failing is more on my part than the author’s—as I’m coming in as a new reader to a series that already has 19 books to establish characterization and relationships.
The title Winter’s Child has a double meaning—as do most of the greatest mysteries. Literally, it concerns a child abandoned in the middle of winter on the doorstep of an Arapaho couple. Now five years old, the couple wants to formally adopt the child they were forced to care for. The legal case pulls in Vicky Holden, an Arapaho attorney, as part of the legal team, but the murder of her co-counsel in front of her indicates that the mystery surrounding the child is deadly.
For the sake of the truth, Vicky dives into the case, consulting her investigative partner, Father John O’Malley, a local Jesuit priest. This is where the figurative meaning of Winter’s Child becomes clear: John’s niece Shannon—a girl he once loved, a young woman who could have been his own daughter—is visiting him to work on her master’s thesis.
The far more interesting storyline to me is Father John’s struggles with his past and present as well as the questions about his future, which draws in much of the violent history between the white settlers and the Arapaho tribe. Vicky comes across as determined and dogged in the pursuit of the truth and in trying to help her clients, but I never received as full a sense of her internal life. One of her clients is a mother desperately trying to help her grown son, who has fallen into criminal acts because of alcoholism, yet nowhere did I get the sense that Vicky was herself a mother until a later scene.
Similarly, there’s a sequence where Father John is in danger or might have been shot, and Vicky rushes to the scene, almost falling apart at the idea of losing him. Shannon notes to her uncle that Vicky is in love with him. That took me by surprise, as that emotion wasn’t hinted at in either of their internal thoughts. Close friends and confidantes, yes. Romantic love, no. However, as a new reader, I suspect this may have been covered in the previous books. This scene may mean a great deal to them.
In many ways, the story reminded me of Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. It has the same sense of place and history—though the settings are vastly different—the clash of cultures between the old and the new, and the struggles between Native Americans and whites are similar. Coel’s prose, so different than Johnson’s, is unadorned and to the point, and it kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next.
What the book most inspired in me was the desire to pick up the first in the series and begin to binge read to catch up. To me, that’s definitely a successful read.
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Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.