Marcie R. Rendon: Murder on the Red River

When I took a look at Native American authors whose work I might want to explore, next to Joy Harjo (whose memoir Crazy Brave I read last month), Marcie R. Rendon quickly stood out as another obvious candidate.  A member of the (Ojibwe / Minnesota Chippewa) White Earth Band, she is a resident of Minneapolis; both books of her Cash Blackbear series that so far have been published have either won or been shortlisted for literary awards, and it’s easy to see why.

Renee “Cash” Blackbear, like the author herself, is a member of the Ojibwe nation; when we meet her in this book at age 19, she already has as much life experience as a woman two or even three times her age should have accumulated: Taken away from her mother and her siblings as a very young child in accordance with the common practice according to which, prior to the introduction of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, as many as 25-30% of all Native American children were removed from their birth families and placed into foster homes, Cash only has vague memories of a loving, nurturing family environment; by contrast, she knows exactly what it means to be the unloved, feared, despised, and severely abused “squaw” child in a white, Scandinavian-descendant family only taking her in for financial reasons and dropping all pretenses the moment that the social worker is out of the door.  In the years after being taken away from he rmother she’s lived with more foster families than she cares to remember, and there is no saying where she would have ended up if Moorhead (MN) Sheriff Dave Wheaton hadn’t prised her from the claws of the system one day six years ago, put her in a tiny (rented) apartment of her own, and made her finish high school.  Since then, she’s been working on farms, driving trucks, and developing her eight-ball pool skills to the point of tournament proficiency — but her interactions with her fellow humans (of all colors, races and sexes) are decidedly of the distant and casual variety; and although she realizes that alcoholism is a huge issue in the Native American communities of the 1960s’ American Mid-West, the bar tender at her favorite pool joint has a bottle (or two) of beer for her on the bar counter the moment she walks in, and no night passes in which she doesn’t go to sleep with another bottle of the same by way of a nightcap, no matter how much alcohol she’s already had before. 

This first book of the series is more about getting to know Cash (and Wheaton, and their ersatz-father-daughter relationship), as well as learning about the situation of Native Americans, particularly Native children, in 1960s’ America, than it is about the murder mentioned in the book’s title: Yes, an investigation does take place, and in the tradition of all amateur detectives Cash wheedles her way into it — here, on the grounds that the victim is a man from the Red Lake (Chippewa / Ojibwe) Reservation in Northeastern Minnesota, so she just might be able to help, though neither she nor Wheaton seem to have a clear idea just how that might be the case –; and like the good professional cop in a mystery that he is, Wheaton lets her take off to Red Lake, even though that end of the investigation isn’t even his own to handle (it’s that of the FBI).  And if this had been a run-of-the-mill mystery, this sort of stuff would probably have bothered me no end.  But here it hardly impinged, because on balance, Cash’s life experience, the glimpses we are allowed into the lives of the murder victim’s wife and children, and race relations in the 1960s in general in this part of the U.S., were just so much more important (and interesting, and gutting).  Rendon knows what she is writing about, clearly from personal experience and observation, and she is a good enough writer to get her message across with less preaching than I would have expected in a book such as this, particularly in a first novel (as this one is, too).

There is one event towards the end of the novel where Cash develops a level of Mary Sue / Superwoman qualities that are hard to believe even in light of her severely scarring and toughening life experience; if it hadn’t been for that moment, I might even have added another half star to my rating.  As it was, this passage just stretched credibility way too far (as did, FWIW, Wheaton’s manner of dealing with the immediate aftermath of that moment, to the extent it involved his role as an investigating officer).  Earlier in the novel Cash has, by contrast, also one of those TSTL “dark and stormy night” moments that hardly any debut mystery novel seems to be able to do without.  But by and large, this was still a tremendously interesting discovery. — For Diversity Bingo purposes, I decided to assign this book to the “human rights” category, because the protection of the family as a nurturing and natural unit is specifically recognized as a human right (see, e.g., the International Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 12 and, especially, 16); and this book’s central theme is the severe trauma caused by ripping apart natural / birth families and made worse by placing the children from those families into a succession of unwelcoming and even abusive foster homes.

4 thoughts on “Marcie R. Rendon: Murder on the Red River

  1. This is NOT a passive aggressive comment meant to twist you to how I want things done 😀 Really

    I have to ask, what is the thinking/thought process/reasoning behind posting 9 books reviews all at once? You obviously had to schedule them, because no one is fast enough to even copy/paste 9 reviews within a minute of each other. So why not schedule them a day apart to give your followers a chance to digest them? It just feels like I asked for a glass of water and you dumped a bathtub on me 😀

    Sorry to be a contrarian. And I am genuinely interested in the “why” you do it this way. You’ve done this before so it’s a modus operandi for you, which means you have your reasons.

    Hope that wasn’t too, confrontational? 🙂

    1. Oh, I had a feeling someone on WP was bound to ask this at some point, and I also suspected most likely it would be you. 😀

      It’s actually fairly easy, and contrary to what you think, it’s got nothing to do with scheduling — actually, the process is exactly the reverse.

      I’m finding more and more that I have absolutely zero initiative to write a review immediately after I’ve finished a book; in addition to which, it just kills way more time than I can — and care to — devote to writing reviews. So, at some point during the BookLikes fall and winter reading games (Halloween Bingo and Festive Tasks), I started to schedule some time to compile summary posts along the lines of “my reading so far” (weekly, biweekly, “the rest of the game since the middle of last month”, whatever); and later, I also started to compile “past month / half year” etc. type posts for the rest of the time.

      When copying those posts to WP, I extracted the individual reviews from those recap posts; in part because here on WP (unlike on BL) I have individual project pages for some of my favorite authors, and I also tag every review by author name; besides which, I just don’t want people to have to scroll halfway down every recap post in order to find the review for a given book for which I’m linking back to that post in the first place. (I’ve set my blog so as to only show post categories, not also tags, but I am using the author name tags in building the “reviews / blog posts by author name” directory in the sidebar, so if / whenever I’m not specifically linking back to a specific post, that directory is another way to find all of my posts concerning a given author.)

      Essentially the same principle applies to this year’s monthly recap posts: I compile the recap post first, and *thereafter* extract the reviews for the individual books, which I keep in “draft” mode until they’re all extracted, then I hit “post” for all of them simultaneously by way of bulk edit. There’s an added element here, though: My monthly recap posts are not simply organized chronologically, but topically, along the lines of my various reading projects. So, there are simply different purposes to the various posts: The monthly recap post is your “one stop shop” review of everything I’ve read during the month, along with the reasons why I picked those specific books and how they fit into the grand scheme of my reading for the year. That’s also why this post always goes to “published” status last — I want it to show at the top of the individual reviews in my blogroll, and to thus be seen earlier than those. The extracted reviews, by contrast, are essentially by way of reference for later (and also, of course, because having those in addition makes the discussion of the individual books in question easier than convoluting the comment space under the monthly recap post).

      I find this works best for me — and as you keep saying yourself, it’s my blog, right? 🙂

      1. Thanks for the explanations.
        And you are right with your last sentence 😀

        It’s not going to change how “I” feel about it, but simply knowing you have these reasons and have shared them with me is enough. It’s a preference and I can live with that 🙂

        In all seriousness though, thanks. I appreciate you putting up with my questions and taking the time to walk me through it all. You don’t have to and so I appreciate it all the more.

  2. LOL; no worries. And whenever I do this again next time, just wait for the overall recap post to show up and scroll through that … if you still want to comment on an individual review, you now know you have two places where you can do that! 🙂

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