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Picks and Pans Review: Indian Killer

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by Sherman Alexie

Seattle is bleeding. Amid the fashionable coffee bars and breathtaking vistas that serve as the backdrop for this powerful and profoundly unsettling new novel, someone is stalking white men, stabbing them, scalping them and leaving owl feathers by the corpses. As police hunt for the slayer—whom they dub the Indian killer because of the owl’s association with death in tribal mythology—other hate-inspired crimes begin exploding throughout the city.

In this tense, racially charged climate, further heated by people like right-wing radio shock-jock Truck Shultz, almost everyone begins to seem guilty of something—particularly construction worker John Smith, an Indian adopted at birth by a wealthy white family. Smith’s years of quiet paranoia appear to his family and coworkers to be erupting into something much more desperate.

The enigmatic Smith, literally without a tribe after records pertaining to his adoption were sealed, becomes the prime suspect in the murders—and the focus of an unblinking exploration of identity and race by Alexie, himself of Spokane-Coeur d’Alene descent.

Although fans may miss the earthy humor that leavened Alexie’s previous work (poems, short stories and two novels), the author more than compensates with the masterful storytelling evident in this novel of terrible beauty. (Atlantic Monthly, $22)