Gorman, an unsung stalwart of the mystery genre, has few peers when it comes to the mechanics of old-fashioned storytelling. In ever-lucid, occasionally poetic prose, he recounts a pair of tales, each of them involving the murder and brutal defacement of a Native-American woman. Both crimes take place near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but they’re separated in time by almost a century, and Gorman braids the two stories together with a minimum of fuss and to highly gripping effect. The earlier case, which unfolds under the shadow of the great wars between the white man and the Plains Indian, lends tragic glamour to the present-day saga, which has as its backdrop a shabby, synthetic world where Indian-owned casinos and suburban McMansions clutter the prairie. Starring in the latter case is retired FBI profiler Robert Payne, a shrewd and likable hero-narrator whose only flaw—which is also the book’s only real flaw—is a penchant for sentimentality. He says that he’s a Republican, and yet liberal piety leaks from multiple cracks in his hardboiled façade. Liberal piety isn’t a bad thing, in moderation. But an excess of it undermines the sure-handed craftsmanship with which Gorman here doles out harsh truths about men and women, about white Americans and Native Americans, about yesterday and today.
ED GORMAN. Hawk Moon (1995).