Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Indian Killer - Sherman Alexi


Sherman Alexi’s 1996 novel, Indian Killer, is a first rate serial killer novel that is almost certain to intrigue any fan of that crime fiction subgenre. But it is so much more than that. 


First, the book’s title is, at first glance, a little misleading. From its title, most readers would assume that Sherman Alexi has written a book about someone who is choosing Native Americans as his crime spree victims (as in the sense that Custer was an “Indian killer”), but exactly the opposite is true here. Instead, this is a story about a Native American, an Indian-killer, who is terrifying Seattle by randomly murdering and scalping his white victims. 


Second, author Sherman Alexi is himself a Native American who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. Alexi’s insight into what could motivate a main character such as this particular one to become the coldblooded killer he turns out to be makes the story all the more terrifying because it is all so logically crazy (if logical craziness is even possible).


 Third, using primarily his secondary characters, Alexi shares a frank look with his readers about how many, if not most, Native Americans still feel today about what happened to their ancestors and the people responsible for the genocide they all too often suffered over the centuries. What Alexi’s characters have to say about all the Indian “wannabes” out there, those people who want so desperately to claim that they carry Indian blood for reasons of their own, is particularly damning. It is reminiscent, although it predates it by more than two decades, of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s embarrassing exposure as a shameless fraud who claimed to be a Native American entirely for her own personal gain. 


So, there is already a lot packed into Indian Killer that readers will want to consider. And that’s even before the realization that an Indian is stalking white men sparks an all-out race war in Seattle. As the search for the killer goes on and on, tensions are high on both sides. Seattle’s Native Americans are nervous about leaving the reservation, and those who live in and around the city are mostly keeping their heads down. White hotheads, possibly as much to disguise their own nervousness and fear as much as anything else, are starting to mouth-off at any Indians they see on the streets. Seattle’s homeless Indian population is in particular danger from the nasty retaliation that occurs after each white victim is discovered.


Throw into the mix a novelist who badly wants people to believe his claim that he is an Indian; a bigoted radio talk show host who keeps his listeners on the verge of anti-Indian violence at all times; and a young Indian college student who leads campus protests about the  bigotry she believes is directed at Indian students like her, and the city is sitting on a powder keg. 


Bottom Line: Indian Killer is a memorable novel that only a Native American would have had the real credibility to write. There is almost as much in between the lines of this one as there is in the plot itself. It is a well written, fast-paced thriller with a message, a book that I recommend for all the reasons I’ve mentioned.  


Sherman Alexi in 1996


10 comments:

  1. I really liked this book, Sam, so it's good to see that you did, too. What you said is spot on: it is so much more than a serial killer book.

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    1. I enjoyed it so much, Cathy, that I now have a copy of his small collection of short stories in hand that's called "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven." It sounds as if that's the book that he broke through with.

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  2. This one sounds *very* different, I will look into it. I didn't know that about Senator Elizabeth Warren... did she not think that anyone would check?

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    1. It's kind of a touch subject, Cath, but the Senator was pretty much disgraced in the primaries that ended up nominating Biden the last time around when it was disclosed that she had been using her claimed Indian "heritage" to open doors for her in college and to get jobs after she passed the Texas bar. Her Texas law license shows her as Native American, and she was purposely hired into a prestigious law ferm at leas partially based on that fraudulent claim. Water off her back, of course, as she is rather shameless an individual in my estimation.

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  3. There is a lot packed into this one! Takes a talented author to handle all of that well. And I guess crazy can have its own kind of logic. At least to the crazy person. ;D

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    1. There is so much going on in this one, Lark, that it almost becomes a bit surreal. It's hard to describe, really.

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  4. Well, murder is always frightening, but scalping the victims is enough on its own to turn things into a powder keg!

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  5. Especially so, Jen, because Alexie portrays the two racial groups as being very distrustful of each other even before the murder starts. It's pretty complicated, even getting into the morality of white parents adopting Native American children.

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  6. Interesting! I'm trying to distance myself from dark, serial killer-type mysteries at the moment, but I may just come back to this one. I like that there's much more to it than the mystery.

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    1. This one doesn't pull any punches, but it also doesn't go out of its way to highlight the gorier aspects of the murders. And, it really is interesting to get a little inside the mindset of the Native American characters.

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