Sinister Graves is the third book in the series featuring Cash Blackbear by Marcie Rendon. Cash is from White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. Cash, unfortunately, grew up in a series of foster homes before Sheriff Wheaton, whose initial report sent her into the system, steps in and emancipates her with his guardianship. She helps him out on his investigations with a combination of intuition, ghostly dreams, and sheer doggedness.
In Sinister Graves, an unidentified woman’s body has been found and Cash is determined to find out who she is. Sheriff Wheaton is away so she’s working on her own for most of the case. In the process, she discovers another murder. Are they connected? She thinks they may be, but the evidence is uncertain. And what about that church they both went to? Cash goes and is drawn to the pastor and his wife, but she keeps seeing a malevolence in the churchyard that she terrifies her and demands her investigation as well.
Along the way, she meets White Earth residents who draw her into their world, one she was unnaturally denied through foster care. She meets a woman who understands her dreams because she also dreams. She makes a few friends, perhaps even a spark of romance. Of course, law enforcement in Detroit Lakes, a mostly white resort town, arrest her when she names a white suspect and it’s only through Sheriff Wheaton’s efforts that she is bailed out.
I loved Sinister Graves. This one brings her back home to White Earth, a place she has been alienated from by the foster care system that until the Indian Child Welfare Act too frequently separated Indigenous children from their heritage. This can be hard on the children who lose their language, religion, and culture to live in a society that does not accept them because they are not white. As in her other books, you see the cultural schism between the Reservation and the white society that surrounds it. You also see the schism in Cash, between her birthright and its gifts and the white society she grew up in. It’s not that she prefers white society, but she it is familiar. She is used to negotiating it.
As for the mystery, it was satisfying and complex while being completely fair. You learned as Cash learned and even her spiritual insights were immediately shared with the reader. I like that this story upended the usual serial killer scenario with such complexity and compassion.
The sense of place was well-done and authentic in terms of place. If anything, Rendon played down the intensity of the racial conflict of the Seventies. I grew up in White Earth and the dichotomy between white towns around White Earth and the Reservation was significant. Conflict was high because White Earth was trying (and is still trying) to get its land back, a conflict that was only partially settled in 1985, but one that exacerbated racism against the tribe and certainly would have had an effect on Cash in dealing with the Detroit Lakes police.
Sinister Graves will be released October 11th. I received an e-galley from the publisher through Edelweiss.