James D. Doss is a worthy successor to Tony Hillerman whose Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries provided solid story-telling as well as insights into the Navajo culture. Doss gives us Charlie Moon, a tribal policeman turned cattle rancher. The series is named for Charlie, one of the most engaging characters in recent fiction but Charlie has to share the spotlight with his aunt, Daisy Perika. Daisy isn’t exactly engaging. She is tough and there is no one on whom she is tougher than Charlie.
Daisy is a shaman. She acts as an intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds. She claims to be able to see the future. Daisy converses frequently with the pitukupf whose home is a hole near a tree not far from Daisy’s trailer. When Daisy is perplexed, she seeks out the little man, plying him with tobacco for his pipe. Daisy sees no contradiction between her relationship with the Ute spirit world and her participation in the prayer life of the Catholic church she attends regularly.
In fact, every Sunday it is Charlie who accompanies his aunt to church. Daisy was widowed multiple times (no, she didn’t do it although some people think she is mean enough to hurry things along) and never had any children. Charlie has no family other than Daisy and he thoroughly enjoys making Daisy think that he is taken in by her various schemes. Daisy knows she knows more than Charlie and she guarantees that she knows at least as much by listening to his conversations with Scott Parris, a transplant from Chicago, who is the local police chief.
A DEAD MAN’ TALE is the fifteenth book in the Charlie Moon series. Charlie is close to 7 feet tall and lean. Daisy is close to 5 feet tall and not lean at all. Each is devoted to the other but would never admit it.
In A DEAD MAN’ TALE, Charlie and Scott are approached by Samuel Reed, a multi-millionaire investor who claims that his great financial success is the product of his ability to go into the future, find what he needs to know, and then return to the present time. He succeeds because he can remember the future. Sam doesn’t seek them out to talk about investments, although he gives Charlie some good advice about selling his cattle in the recession. Rather, he offers the two men a bet that they can’t keep him alive past June 5. Sam has his own version of a Doom’s Day clock and he has 31 days, 14 hours, 20 minutes, and 10 seconds to live. The minute Charlie and Scott heard “wager” they were in, although they don’t have any idea what they are in for.
Charlie still serves as a part-time member of the tribal police department. In that capacity, Charlie is asked to kill a man. Oscar Sweetwater, the Southern Ute Chairman, arrives at Charlie’s ranch with Lyle Thoms, a Chickasaw. Many years ago, Lyle performed a considerable service for Oscar and Oscar is now being asked to return the favor. Lyle gets right to the details. Posey Shorthorse has done a terrible thing to a member of Lyle’s family, leading to a death. Lyle wants Posey dead and Oscar has promised that Charlie is the man to do it. Lyle believes that Posey is less than a man and so he offers to pay Charlie twenty-five cents to avenge his loss. Charlie doesn’t tell either man that he has never used his police issue gun to shoot anything or anyone.
Scott needs Charlie, too. There have been a series of burglaries. So far, no one has been attaacked but it is only a matter of time before the Crowbar Burglar does serious harm.
Doss manages to create a different voice, a different inflection for each of his characters. Daisy, the self-described shaman, is a woman old enough not to be surprised by anything. She likes to pour a bit of mischief into people’s lives but Daisy is literally an old soul and with her years has come wisdom. Charlie is a decent, honest, and honorable man who finds his aunt annoying at times and a great source of amusement at other times. Scott is a man caught between two worlds – no longer the Chicago cop and not a member of the tribe. Charlie and Scott figure whatever comes up, they’ll be able to handle it together.
James Doss is one of my favorite writers; he is another who doesn’t write fast enough.