Reviewed by Dirk Plante
Cold Skies by Thomas King is the third in the Thumps DreadfulWater series, featuring a retired Cherokee LAPD detective with a keen interest in photography who is unwillingly pulled back into the force to replace Sheriff Duke Hockney in his hometown of Chinook, Montana. Hockney hands the reigns to DreadfulWater when he is ordered to go to Costa Rica, a questionable choice that casts a shadow over the whole book given that it is the FBI’s responsibility to investigate murders that occur on U.S. reservations
DreadfulWater’s starchy demeanor and cool emotions prevail even when multiple bodies are found in the vicinity: one at the airport, two on the neighbouring reservation, a fourth at a motel. All are connected to Orion Technologies, a company working on a new mechanism to map aquifers. One victim is found languishing in a newly completed luxury condo resort built by the local American Indian band. The number one suspect is Stick Merchant, anti-condo protester and wayward son of Claire Merchant, head of the tribal council and DreadfulWater’s sometimes lover.
DreadfulWater obnoxiously debate the style of eggs at the local diner or resent his doctor’s orders to change his lifestyle as a diabetic. This is classic Thomas King banter, but unfortunately Thumps thinks he’s funny, but he’s not. He is so lackluster and emotionless he comes off as indifferent, more of an observer than an active participant. He shows little empathy for the victims and solves even less; when the killer is revealed, the solution feels both remote and anticlimactic.
Cold Skies is a small-village cozy mystery. We are exposed to the procedures and investigatory aspects of the case, but the main plot surrounds Thumps DreadfulWater’s personal life. This prevents the plot from reaching its full potential as readers have to guess at his tactics to catch a murderer. There are typical clues, red herrings, and quirky townspeople:
Cold Skies leaves the impression that King is still only dabbling in crime fiction rather than taking it seriously despite leaving the pseudonym Hartley GoodWeather behind for his own name on the cover. Perhaps this indicates it’s now acceptable for literary writers to publicly dabble in crime fiction.
Thomas King is an award-winning writer of Cherokee and Greek descent. He is member of the Order of Canada and recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. His novels include Green Grass Running Water, One Good Story That One, The Back of the Turtle, and The Inconvenient Indian. The next title in the series, A Matter of Malice is due out next year.