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The Red Power Murders

by Thomas King

With The Red Power Murders, Thomas King (aka Hartley Goodweather) returns with a new DreadfulWater mystery. Having abandoned the façade of pseudonymity that accompanied DreadfulWater Shows Up, the first novel featuring Cherokee freelance investigator Thumps DreadfulWater, King revisits his fictional town of Chinook, rounding out both the town and its returning characters while adding a half dozen visitors and the requisite murder mystery.

The Red Power Murders begins with DreadfulWater, a former cop turned photographer, being roped into documenting a touring author’s visit. As it turns out, the author is none other than Noah Ridge, leader of the Red Power Movement, or RPM. An old acquaintance from Thump’s college days in Salt Lake City, Ridge arrives with an FBI agent protecting him. Add an ominous and anonymous postcard waiting for Ridge at his hotel, a stranger dying under mysterious circumstances, and the revisiting of the disappearance of Ridge’s communications organizer during the height of RPM’s Salt Lake City days, and the novel is quickly in full swing. As the past catches up with Thumps, and more and more people from his years in Salt Lake City begin to appear in town, bringing with them mystery and murder, Thumps finds himself deputized and on the sleuthing trail once again. The novel moves with a brisk pace, with a number of surprising turns. King has a keen ear for dialogue, and The Red Power Murders crackles with wit and broadly drawn characters.

With a wry humour and an often self-deprecating commentary on the vagaries of life, Thumps moves through the book almost as a personification of King’s theories about the native style of story telling and writing that appeared in The Truth About Stories, his 2003 Massey Lectures book. The Red Power Murders exemplifies the differences between native and non-native storytelling, incorporating an open-ended, loose approach to narrative without need of a moral centre or academic point. It’s a style that doesn’t always match non-native sensibilities, and may jar unwary readers. In The Red Power Murders, however, the juxtaposition of a fairly standard murder mystery/thriller storyline with this narrative approach makes for a unique work: whimsical and wry, large-hearted and at times laugh out loud funny, but with an underlying gravitas and significance.