Gwen Florio – “Dakota”

dakotaDirty oil, dirty politics, dirty deals. Desperation. And drugs.

Dakota finds former foreign correspondent Lola Wicks up to her eyeballs in the oil patch. She’s a small-town reporter now, but her instincts still work. She wants to follow her gut and the trail that leads from the body of a dead girl found frozen in a snowbank.

The dead girl is from the local Blackfeet tribe. Having been to Afghanistan, Wicks is not unfamiliar with the treatment of the powerless and of the “fecklessness of men.” She knows oppression when she sees it. “Obituaries from the reservation outweighed those from the rest of the county three to one in the pages of the Daily Express,” she notes.

Wicks conjures a mild ruse to sell her editor on a scheme that will get her on the road so she can find out what happened to Judith Calf Looking. She proposes to write a story about how the Blackfeet are searching for jobs hundreds of miles from the rez.

Poking around the oil patch, Wicks runs into a thicket of sticky issues involving sex, power, exploitation and greed. It’s cold and getting colder. The flying snowflakes sting. There’s a minor, troubling question of who to trust. There are mixed signals from the guy she’s sleeping with back in Magpie, the county’s first Indian sheriff. There are strippers to quiz. Who has seen Judith Calf Looking? The trail leads to seedy bars and seedier strip joints where the G-strings won’t keep the dancers warm but the flying cash just might. The town codes, well, if you’re not from around here, figure them out for yourself.

With the same strong writing as Florio flashed in Wicks’ first adventure, Montana, this story rides on gritty atmosphere and sharp-edged characters.

When it comes to profiting from the furious infusion of men and jobs, Wicks comes to learn, schemers of all kinds will find inspiration in the most bleak landscapes. Next time, I’m betting if Wicks gets banged up she’ll think a bit more carefully about who is offering to help. Every boomtown, after all, has its rats.

Note: Read my review of Montana and an interview with Florio here: http://wp.me/plqD1-ut Montana is a finalist for International Thriller Award and High Plains Book Award.

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