Subjects seem to come in cycles. Year before last I saw the documentary DamNation
and last year I read David R. Montgomery’s The King of Fish (my Goodreads review here.) The film is a visual education in how we as a nation have screwed with our native habitat in exchange for cheap power. There is a scene that shows one salmon after another ramming a dam to try to get upriver to their spawning grounds that is really painful to watch, on many levels. The book is a history of what happens after the dams are built that reminded me of what happened to the Plains Indians after white hunters and settlers nearly exterminated the buffalo herds from the windows of their railroad cars. By now we’ve got starving out undesirables down to a science.
In Warren C. Easley’s new novel, Not Dead Enough, dams and salmon both become motive for murder. Cal Claxton, ex-LA to Oregon attorney, is approached by Winona Cloud, a Wasco Indian whose grandfather disappeared in suspicious circumstances sixty years before with the building of a hydroelectric dam on a river their tribe had fished for generations. Winona wants to know what really happened, so Cal starts asking questions and then starts getting shot at, and meantime suspects stack up like cordwood, from the dam’s original contractor and his employees to the dam’s biggest booster, whose son is now running for the US Senate. I liked the setting, Oregon in all its rain-soaked glory west of the Cascades (and it’s liberal beating heart) and all its desert scrubbiness east of them (and its conservative boomerish base), and Easley drops in some nice, laidback humor from time to time to flesh out Cal’s character, as here when Cal is invited to join in a sweat
…I really didn’t care that I was witnessing a ritual that hadn’t changed in millennia. I did try to conjure up some spiritual thoughts of my own, but it’s hard to think when your brain is melting.
but what I really liked were the minor characters, like Jake the shooter, for whom I should not have felt sympathetic at all (reminding me of when T. Jefferson Parker makes me root for all the wrong poeple). I really like the way Easley handles the rape of another character, too–we don’t have to live through it and the woman, in a masterpiece of understatement emblematic of women raised in that time and place, says only, “He was not a gentleman.” My heart just broke for her. And I can only bow my head in respect for the way Easley handles the romantic relationship, something series writers struggle with all the time, myself included.
I will say no more, because spoilers. Recommended.
Read more of my Goodreads reviews here.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.