Killing Custer


In her pulse-pounding mysteries, New York Times bestselling author Margaret Coel interweaves authentic Native American culture and history with modern-day suspense. In the latest Wind River novel, Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Father John O’Malley are caught between two cultures that won’t let go of the past—and a killer who won’t leave any witnesses… 

The whole town of Lander has turned out for the big parade celebrating the start of the new rodeo season. The main spectacle this year is the appearance of Colonel Edward Garrett—a spot-on impersonator of General George Armstrong Custer—and a troop of men acting as the ill-fated Seventh Cavalry.

The problem is they are being followed by a group of Arapaho warriors from the Wind River Reservation, who proceed to encircle Garrett and his men in a “dare ride” just to remind them exactly who won the Battle of the Little Bighorn. But when the ride is over, history seems to have repeated itself: Garrett is dead in the street with a bullet hole in his chest.

No one is sure what happened, but public sentiment quickly turns against the Arapaho—and the prime suspect is Colin Morningside, a descendant of Crazy Horse. When a local attorney connected to Morningside disappears, the accusations only grow stronger.

Father John O’Malley knows in his heart the Arapaho are not guilty. And Vicky Holden finds herself professionally and personally compromised from getting involved. But what begins as a murder soon reveals itself as a conspiracy that neither Father John nor Vicky could have foreseen. And someone wants to ensure that the truth they discover will die with them… 


Residents of Lander, Wyoming are ready for the rodeo and this year the season kicks off with a parade led by a General Custer impersonator and a troop of Seventh Calvary re-enactors.  Spectators become uneasy when a group of Arapaho, Including Colin Morningside, a descendent of Crazy Horse, ride up on their horses and surround the “Seventh Calvary”.   Even Colonel Edward Garrett, the man portraying Custer, seems to sometimes confuse his own life with that of George Armstrong Custer, so when Garrett is found dead, many think history is repeating itself. Although Morningside is an obvious suspect, looking back in history, “Indians aren’t the only ones who hated Custer”.  John O’Malley and Vicky Holden are among the few people who think there is more to this case than meets the eye and are determined to find out the truth.    

Margaret Coel is an expert in creating a unique blend of history and facts about the modern West into an engaging, modern-day story. Coel is able to tie in current events with the past that engrosses the reader in the fictional story, as well as real events from the past. At the heart of this book and the entire Wind River series are the characters of John O’Malley and Vicky Holden. Circumstances of their work often throw them together and they make a great team. On the outside they are very different; Vicky is an Arapaho lawyer and John is a white spiritual counselor to people on the reservation. In spite of their differences, John and Vicky seem to be soulmates. They each understand the other’s deep dedication to their work and they enjoy lively conversations as well as comfortable silences, and can often read each other minds. However, John O’Malley is a Jesuit priest, so their close friendship can’t go any further. Ironically, Vicky’s would seem to have more in common with her boyfriend, the handsome Lakota Adam Long Eagle, but he doesn’t appear to understand Vicky or her commitment to her work with the Arapaho. Even if a romantic relationship between Vicky and O’Malley isn’t meant to be, Adam doesn’t seem to be the right one for Vicky, either. Since personal relationships are such a key part of these mysteries, I hope things somehow work out for the best for Vicky.

I’ve read a few prior books in this series, and the mysteries are always well-written and well-plotted. However, the bittersweet friendship and love between Vicky and Father O’Malley is not always easy for me to read since it looks as if one or both characters will end up getting hurt. Ironically, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as some of the other books in the series because Vicky and Father O’Malley don’t work as closely together as they usually do on the investigation since Vicky has a conflict of interest with another case. The two related cases are interesting, especially because of the tie-in to historical events in history. Even though the police think they have an open and shut case against Colin Morningside, there are plenty of other suspects. The solution is made more complicated than it would be since so many of the re-enactors take their portrayals so seriously and carry the characterizations into their real lives.

Readers who enjoy Tony Hillerman or Aimee Thurlo will enjoy Killing Custer. Enough background information about the characters and setting is given so new or casual readers to this series can jump right in and enjoy the book. Long-standing readers will enjoy some very touching scenes between Vicky and John, as well as a well-crafted historical mystery.

Reviewed by Christine K.