Anadarko: A Kiowa Country Mystery
by Tom Holm
(University of Arizona Press, 2015)
Anadarko: A Kiowa Country Mystery is an historical novel about two detectives, J.D. Daughtery, an Irish cop turned investigator and his “operative,” a Cherokee mechanic named Hoolie Smith. As in the previous mystery by Holm, The Osage Rose: An Osage Country Mystery, Daughtery is called in to solve a murder, this time of a white man on Indian property as well as the kidnapping of a Black woman by the Klu Klux Klan. Meanwhile, Daughtery is asked to help clean up the political corruption of Anadarko, but he is called back to Tulsa because of problems with the Ku Klux Klan. He leaves Hoolie in Anadarko to try to solve the murder amid the political intrigues of bootlegging, the illegal procuring of cattle grazing rights, and the looming threat of natural gas exploration. The historical backgrounds of the Klu Klux Klan, the Volstead Act, political corruption in the 1920s, the reign of terror by whites on American Indians in procuring headrights, and the Native American Church add conflict and depth to the major murder plots. Although Holm follows the detective fiction formula of an eccentric private eye and his sidekick solving murders, the historical 1920s background and the American Indian cultural references set this apart from the typical murder mysteries. The basic theme of good versus evil permeates both works.
The work quickly catches the reader’s interest with two murders in the Prologue. Holm then follows the same format as in The Osage Rose with Daughtery called in on the crime and Hoolie as his sidekick. The men split again, allowing the reader to follow two plot lines with the men and plots converging in the end. The Epilogue, as in the earlier work, ends with Daughtery on trial for the retribution killings discussed in the earlier work.
Holm layers new cultural conflicts in Anadarko. The procurement of Kiowa land by whites for cattle grazing and possible natural gas production add a new twist to the more well-known Reign of Terror about the flagrant stealing of oil rights from the Osage. Hoolie’s participation with Charging Horse in the peyote rituals of the Native American church emphasize Native attempts to curb the problem of alcoholism rampant in the Prohibition Era. Most people know about the Volstead Act and the proliferation of bootlegging; few know about the Native church’s role in trying to halt this illegal activity among American Indians.
One of the strengths of Holm’s detective fiction and one writers would do well to emulate is his descriptions of his supporting cast. As with John Tall Soldier and the Shelby family in Osage Rose, Holm increases interest with unusual characters. In Anadarko, Holm introduces Violet Comstock and Deaf Bob. Vi is a wealthy madam/prostitute who wants detective J.D. to help her and the mayor corner the illegal bootlegging market–under the guise of “cleaning up the town.” Basically all they want to do is eliminate the competition. However, she flatters and attempts to lure J.D. into helping her. “She was probably around forty and very well dressed in a red-flowered dress, high-heeled shoes with straps across the instep, and a ruffled apron. Her dark curly hair was cut fairly short. She had two spit curls plastered to her cheeks. Those cheeks were heavily roughed and her lips were bright red. She had a soft, smoky voice and spoke with a smooth, southern accent. To top it all off, Violet wore a red flower behind her left ear” (32). J.D. is smitten.
Deaf Bob is a hermit, Spanish treasure hunter, and friend to the local Kiowa. A white man once married to a Comanche woman who died from smallpox, whose children were taken away to Carlisle Indian school where one died and the other disappeared, and who had his ears cut off by Texans, Deaf Bob aids Hoolie and the Kiowa Boyiddle brothers in their various schemes to outwit the local political machines. “Deaf Bob was dressed in trousers, old brogans, and suspenders. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and he held an old gray wide-brimmed felt hat in his left hand. The man was practically bald, and he had a big gray moustache that drooped down both sides of his mouth. He had no ears, only holes where they should have been. In his right hand was a Colt.45 Single Action Army Revolver”(188). Then there are the villains Marty and Moe. Hoolie cannot decide which of the men was worse. “One of them pulled the wings off the flies before he mashed them, and the other just killed them outright without any sort of emotion. One was simply cruel without expressing anger, lust, greed, or joy; the other took pleasure in cruelty” (108).
Holm also weaves cultural myths and stories into the main plot. J.D.’s dream of the Banshee foreshadows Vi’s murder, and the story of the Kiowa trickster Sayn-Day provides clues as to how some of the conflicts will be solved. The most pervasive myth is of Spider and her web. “Hoolie thought about his grandma’s story about how Spider stole some of the fire’s sun and brought it back to earth so that everyone could benefit from its warmth in so many ways” (193). Other animals tried but failed, and only Grandma Spider succeed by capturing the sun in her intricate web. Hoolie uses this tale to figure out how to “net in his own web some of the principal characters in this complicated tale of lies, murder, and corruption” (194).
Personally, I still prefer Osage Rose, Holm’s first mystery and one of my all-time favorites, to this sequel. Perhaps it is because we are fully introduced to the main characters in this novel, and their story continues in Anadarko as it typically does in most series. Or, maybe it is because more myths, both Irish and Cherokee, are threaded intricately throughout Osage Rose. What works in both novels, however, are the well-plotted mystery narratives based on strong cultural and historical backgrounds, ones conveniently forgotten by today’s society, ones we all need to remember. Read them both!