When a charismatic Algonquian killer shows up in the remote mountain town of Wicklow, CA, he turns peaceful Wild River County upside down and inside out. One time criminologist, and Wicklow resident, Maggie Tall Bear Sloan, (50% Yurok, 50% Irish, and 100% gutsy) joins forces with county sheriff and long-time friend, Jake Lubbuck, to track down the murderer. Maggie’s twin nieces live in Wicklow and match the killer’s victim profile exactly. She’ll do whatever it takes to protect them and the people of her home town. Maggie has recurring dreams of turning into a green-eyed raven the local tribal people believe exists, and she just might be a “pukkukwerek,” the shapeshifter monster killer of Yurok legend. As she pursues the killer, who may be possessed by the Manitou demon, Maggie begins to accept her true nature as she learns not all things are as they seem, and discovers that some myths are true.
Canada, Twenty-Eight Years Ago
Three weeks before his sixth birthday, the boy tasted his first human heart. It happened during an elk hunting trip with his father, Noshi, his mother, Chepi, and his twin brother, Sheshebens.
“Uncle Sokamon says the Elk are plentiful on the back side of the La Cloche,” Noshi said.
The family packed, Noshi grabbed his rifle, and off they went. The day before, a freak storm, “the worst of the season,” the weatherman said, dumped another meter of snow over the already blanketed peaks. But today the sun was blinding orange and the sky, hyacinth blue. The boy shielded his eyes with one hand and squinted at the glinting snow. …
Northern California, Present Time
An unkindness of ravens, knocking and cawing, settled into the branches of a gray pine. Maggie squinted at them through the morning glare of the sun, and reached into her coat pocket. “You gluttonous, winged pigs.” She withdrew her hand and tossed corn onto the dirt. No matter where Margaret Tall-Bear Sloan was, ravens were certain to be nearby. She always carried corn.
The phone rang. She dropped the kernels remaining in her palm, and sprinted into her cottage. “Hello?”
“I’ve got bad news,” said Jake Lubbock, Wicklow’s sheriff.
“Don’t tell me. More kids?”
“Six-year-old girls. The O’Malley twins.”
“Dammit. God dammit.”
“You still thinking about joining the reserves? Your certification is current, and you still have your license to carry. Right? I can expedite this.”
“Maggie, listen to me. We sure could use your help. Two sets of twins in less than eight months.
No clues. We can’t get a handle on this.”
“You know after what happened in Oakland, I don’t deal with child killers. I’m sorry, but I have to say no.”
“Can we meet for lunch and talk? At least hear me out.”
“What time? I’ve got an appointment this morning. I can be in town around one if that’s not too late.”
“One it is,” Jake said. “And…Maggie?”
“Don’t thank me. I’m not getting involved. This is only lunch, and you’re buying.”
“Whatever you say. See you at The Dandelion.”
She slicked back a few stray hairs. Not bad for an old broad. With her bare foot, she stroked Samantha, her blue point Siamese rescue cat with a crooked tail and an attitude. The slinky feline leapt onto the table and butted Maggie’s hand in a bid for additional petting.
For 46, Maggie figured she’d held up pretty good, her complexion wrinkle-free except tiny crows’ feet at the corners of her eyes when she smiled, which was seldom. Maggie had Yurok features from her mother’s side, toasted butter skin and Native hair, glossy stuff of legends she plaited into a thick salt-and-pepper braid that fell to her waist. Her lime green eyes that turned dark olive when she became angry, which was often, she owed to her Northern Irish father.
She pulled on her favorite T-shirt, the one that read, “I’m half white but can’t prove it,” kicked off fuzzy pink slippers, yanked on her Dan Post boots, and left with her dog following close behind. “See ya later, Samantha. Keep the mice away while we’re gone.”
She opened the door to her ‘54 cherry red Chevy pickup. “C’mon, Chester.” The old bloodhound leapt into the passenger’s seat. As Maggie headed toward town, a raucous cry broke the mid-day stillness. She glanced in her rearview mirror. “Yup, ravens following us, Chester. What a big surprise, eh boy?”
53 Amazon reviews, all 4s and 5s. Excellent reviews on Audible.com and on Goodread, too. The latest 5-star Audio review:
"Made me think of Twin Peaks"
In a small town in Northern California a serial killer is murdering sets of young twins, whose bodies are always placed on an embrace and without their hearts. Maggie, a retired criminologist, is required to assist on this case by the local sheriff. Her Indian heritage as "pukkukwerek" will be decisive in finding out who is murdering these children, but it is something Maggie is not willing to accept, preferring her Celtic roots, and discarding this legends as simple myths.
I loved the setting of this book. The small town, the gruesome murders, the diner, the ravens, and the mystic element made me think more than once about Twin Peaks. Wheeler depicted great characters with distinctive personalities that were alive, with their obsessions and their imperfections, and they fitted perfectly into the setting, which was also very elaborate to the point of feeling real. I could almost smell the coffee Dawn prepared, and I almost felt part of the small population of Wicklow.
The story is very well built, and I immediately got immersed in it. The book alternates between the current story and another one in the past, which will give us small clues as to why this murders are happening. Halfway through the book I was almost sure about who the culprit was, but Wheeler knows how to keep us in the dark, and the truth is neither revealed nor suspected until the end of the story. This last twist was totally unexpected and when the killer was finally revealed I even flinched.
One of my favorite things though about the audiobook is the narration. Joe Hempel always delivers a great experience, and for me, he makes the listening almost something seamless. At some point I forget that I am listening to somebody narrating a book and I am living the story. You always know which character is doing the talking, and he is at the same time subtle, which is relaxing to the ear. Hempel also transmits very well the characters emotions, bringing them to life.
This book is one of those great and unexpected finds. I would love to read more stories by Peggy A. Wheeler, and I would not mind visiting Wicklow again.