Thursday, 24 February 2022

Winter Counts by: David Heska Wanbli Weiden

 Genre: Mystery, Thriller 

Published: August 25, 2020 by: Ecco 

Pages: 336 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: drug use, heroin overdose, discussion of alcohol addiction, discussion of violence against children, gun violence, blood 

Virgil Wounded Horse lives on Rosebud Indian Reservation with his nephew Nathan, who he adopted after his sister died. After struggling with alcoholism, Virgil is now completely sober, and dedicates his life to being a vigilante on the reservation. When the police or tribal council fail to deliver justice, Virgil steps in to set things right. However, when drugs make their way onto the reservation, Virgil faces a new kind of threat, as the drugs have found Nathan, the boy who Virgil has dedicated his new life to protect. Together with his ex-girlfriend Marie, Virgil travels around the reservation and beyond to find the source of the drugs and shut it down, but this task will prove dangerous as Virgil sinks deeper into the investigation. 

I am very picky with thrillers. Sometimes thrillers do not grip me like they should, and the crimes and aftermath end up going way over my head. Admittedly, sometimes I find thrillers extremely boring. So, I wasn't sure what to expect when reading this book. I was excited for the Indigenous representation, specifically Lakota representation, as I don't read many books that centre around the Lakota nation. David Heska Wanbli Weiden is a member of the Lakota nation (thanks Cee @ Dora Reads for pointing this out!), so a big plus for the novel is the #OwnVoices representation. I was immediately engrossed into the story, and I thought that David Heska Wanbli Weiden did a fantastic job at building up the threat and investigation, while also weaving through the story topics of Lakota identity, customs, and traditions. 

Virgil is an incredibly complex character. He was previously addicted to alcohol, but now he is sober and his only mission is to protect his nephew Nathan, as well as anybody on the reservation who needs someone to advocate for them. While Virgil's methods of resolution may be unorthodox, his role as vigilante plays such an important part in the building up of the crime and Virgil's personal connection to it. Not only do the drugs affect Virgil because Nathan is involved, but he also has a strong care for children and teens, and it is evident that he pushes hard to solve this crime because he wants better futures for the kids on the reservation than perhaps the early adult years that he had. I rarely ever read vigilante characters, but I found myself rooting for Virgil every step of the way and I could completely understand that his heart was in the right place. 

I also really loved Virgil's ex-girlfriend, Marie Short Bear. Marie was fascinating because she is somewhat caught in between worlds. She is dedicated to the reservation and making the lives of the people on it better, despite them not always being supportive of her. However, she also has the opportunity to leave the reservation and go to medical school, and she struggles with making the decision to leave, or staying and finishing the work that she started. Marie was empathetic, intelligent, and a great foil to Virgil's character. I thought that the two complimented each other very well. While Virgil likes to seek reparations using physical force, Marie prefers to use her mind to come up with a solution. Both methods work for each character, and the book doesn't try to tell the reader why Marie is a better character than Virgil or vice versa. Marie teaches Virgil to be more patient, and Virgil teaches Marie that there are many causes worth fighting for. They were a fantastic pairing, and their dynamic was great to see. 

The story was well-balanced, with a great mix of information surrounding the crime, climatic action, and falling action/resolutions. Throughout the story we see Virgil reconciling with his Lakota identity, something that he hasn't always embraced, and there was also interesting information about Lakota customs for readers who may be unfamiliar. I cannot recommend this book enough if you are into thrillers, as I think it offers something different into the thriller genre, with its diverse cast of characters and integration of the Lakota nation from a Lakota author.   

Have you read Winter Counts? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess


  1. This absolutely sounds fantastic and I'm super interested in it now. the Lakota representation and the interplay between Virgil and Marie are big draws. Thanks for sharing this one! I wouldn't have known about it otherwise!

  2. Sounds interesting - might be worth mentioning that it's Lakota #OwnVoices, Em (yes, I Googled the author,) esp. since alcoholism and drug abuse can be stereotyped so easily by non-Native authors :) <3