Winter Counts

David Heska Wanbli Weiden. Ecco, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-296894-4

Virgil Wounded Horse, the half Lakota, half white narrator of Weiden’s gorgeous debut, serves as a fists-for-hire enforcer on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation. Ever since Virgil’s sister died in a car accident three years earlier, her son, Nathan, has been living with him. Back when Virgil was an alcoholic, his erratic behavior drove away the love of his life, Marie Short Bear, but now he’s sober, and after Nathan ends up in the hospital from an overdose of heroin, Marie returns to help Virgil take on the bad guys responsible for bringing heroin to the reservation. To complicate matters, Marie faces a decision about medical school in New Mexico, right as she and Virgil are falling back in love. The novel twists delicately around various personal conflicts while artfully addressing issues related to the politics of the reservation. Weiden combines funny, complex, and unforgettable characters with strong, poetic prose (“This was the winter of my sorrow, one I had tried to elude but which had come for me with a terrible cruelty”). This is crime fiction at its best. Agent: Michelle Brower, Aevitas Creative Management. (Aug.)