Without warning, a blinding light came out of nowhere. The barrel of a gun came through the window of the truck and dug into his neck. ... 'Don't move,' said a raspy voice. 'If you do, I'll finish you off right here.'
Still blinded by the light and dizzy from the booze, Angus swallowed hard before he spoke. 'Who are you? What do you want?'
'Stop stealing land,' the voice demanded, 'and give back the land you've already stolen, or I'll come back and erase your drunken ass from the face of the planet. Got it?'
Cherokee travel agent Sadie Walela is drawn into the mystery when a dead stranger is found with an arrow through his chest and his tools scattered next to a new and puzzlingly high wire fence along the back side of her rural property.
Her curiosity about the dead man's identity and the fence on land she thought was owed by another Cherokee family leads her to Texas transplant Angus Clyburn, the man in the truck in the opening scene. Walela—her last name means 'hummingbird' in Cherokee—learns that the rancher has been expanding his spread in the heart of northeastern Oklahoma's Cherokee Nation by taking advantage of the fractured land ownership in partnership of a crooked Cherokee attorney and Tribal Council Member.
Clyburn is not just stealing land. Walela soon discovers that he and his partner are setting up a big game ranch where hunters will pay thousands of dollars to shoot trophy elk, deer, and bison. When a shipment of bison arrives at the ranch and Sadie discovers one cow giving birth to a white calf, Clyburn's schemes begin to unravel. Soon Clyburn is dead, felled by a high-powered rifle, and Sadie and her boyfriend, Deputy Sheriff Lance Smith, are in a race to figure out who killed the man no one seems to like and protect the sacred white calf and the Cherokee land itself.
Hoklotubbe deftly weaves current issues into this story without seeming to load it down: racial slurs and more serious conflicts between the Cherokee people and the whites; rape; corruption in tribal and county government; the ravages of alcohol and drug abuse; and family conflicts. What keeps the story from sinking into despair is its quiet immersion in Cherokee culture, a spiritual and practical reverence for the verdant woods, gratitude for daily life, and the constant of caring for family and friends, for community.
It's easy to see why Hoklotubbe's Sadie Walela mysteries have won awards: Betrayal at the Buffalo Ranch thunders along in a gripping narrative propelled by characters and situations that are both familiar and foreign, and draws to a satisfyingly redemptive and believable ending. Sadie and her community are fascinating and likable people—not perfect by any means, but easy to root for. For those who enjoy a read that is entertaining and informative, crisply written, and gives you a glimpse of a world you don't know, this book is a winner.
I'd suggest only one addition for future novels: A short Cherokee-language dictionary in the back of the book, with a pronunciation guide for those curious about the melodious-sounding words and their meanings.
Sadie Sue Hoklotubbe, a Cherokee tribal citizen, is the author of the award-winning Sadie Walela Mystery series, which also includes Deception on All Acounts, The American Café, and Sinking Suspicions. She is the winner of the WILLA Literary Award, the New Mexico-Arizona Mystery Book of the Year Award, and the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Mystery of the Year Award. She and her husband live in Colorado.
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