Monday 13 November 2017

The Shaman's Game by James D. Doss

For the Ute of Southern Colorado, the annual Sun Dance is among the most solemn and sacred of rituals. But too often recently Death has been an uninvited guest at the hallowed ceremony. None of the deceased has sustained visible, life-ending injuries, so Charlie Moon is reluctant to call it murder. Yet he knows there was nothing "natural" about the unexplained deaths of young and strong dancers, like the blue-armed Shoshone, Joseph Sparrow.
Daisy Perika is also aware of the events unfolding around her, but unlike her skeptical policeman nephew, she trusts the rumors of sorcery that travel like smoke on the wind. For there is much the eyes cannot see and the hands cannot touch; and the spirits have sent her words and signs warning there is great evil in her midst...and that there are many more corpses to follow.
The return of a childhood friend -- a beautiful Ute woman back from college to write a newspaper story revealing who, or what, is stealing men's lives -- has raised the stakes in Charlie Moon's investigation. With those he cares for deeply suddenly in harm's way, perhaps he should heed his friend Parris's suggestion that he look beyond the rational for answers. But Charlie has seen all too often the lethal results of hatred, bitterness and delusion. And it's these very real human failings he is determined to explore in order to catch a killer before Death darkens the Sun Dance once again.
Goodreads description
As regular readers of this blog will know I like mystery stories, whether magic realist ones or not. In the case of magic realist mysteries (such as The Shaman's Game) the magic brings another layer to the mystery - it introduces alternative motivations, different belief structures, additional mystery, and on occasion a different answer to the mystery. I will not tell you whether the latter applies to this book for obvious reasons.
I really enjoyed The Shaman's Game. James D.Doss is not a writer with whom I was familiar and had to go to a specialist crime bookshop to find his book (and then only one), which suggests that he may not be published in the UK. He was worth the effort. 
The Shaman's Game is the fourth book in the Charlie Moon series. Interestingly my copy says it is the fourth in the Shaman series. As Daisy Perika, detective Charlie Moon's aunt, is the shaman in the title this suggests there may have been a shift in the emphasis in the series. The balance between the two main characters in this book is pretty equal. This is in some ways indicative of the balance one finds in the genre between magic and realism. Charlie approaches the deaths of the sun dancers as a rational detective, looking for evidence and believing in rational answers. Daisy thinks he is ignoring the spirit world. There is a loving, if not always respectful, rivalry between the two. 
But the characters are more complex than that. Daisy may be the shaman, but she will back up her magic with practical plans to ensure the result she wants. When Daisy visits the pitukupf, the Ute leprechaun, she brings gifts for the little spirit, sets them down by the entrance to his lair and settles down to dream. When she leaves, she does not look back and verify that the gifts had been removed by the pitukupf. We read the debate in her head on the subject - to look back would be to show disrespect for the spirit, there was no need as she had seen the gifts in his hands in her dream. At the end of the book Charlie makes a similar decision, when he is confronted with the fact that his Ute belief systems may have been suppressed but are still there. 
It would be wrong to finish a review of Doss's work without mentioning the richness of his writing. His descriptions of the land and nature in which the story takes place are lovely and you feel how their homeland impacts on the beliefs of the characters. I can just see Daisy's lonely caravan with its creaky porch watched by three peaks, believed to have once been three sisters. Nor should I fail to mention that the book is strewn with wry humour, including some clever use of characters' thoughts contradicting their words. 
I recommend this book.