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Medicine War : A Book Review

A guest review by Jane Davis, of the mystery by Robert J. Conley.

Thomas Perry writes of present day Seneca, Tony Hillerman and Robert Thurlo the Navaho. Now Robert Conley, himself a Cherokee, takes us to the 1907 Cherokee Nation in Medicine War, a story of witching, enchantments, and bloodshed. George Panther is the area medicine man distributing special tobacco and advice to the many who seek his services.

But someone is cursing him. His prize winning race horse throws his rider at a crucial time during a race; thunder and lightening single out his home for assault; and patients who were thriving begin to sicken once more. A mysterious man in black with red eyes and a sulfurous smell is seen in the area. Why is he attacking George?

The book cover ranks Robert Conley with Louise Erdrich and W. P. Kinsella as an "interpreter of many facets of the Native-American experience," so I looked forward to learning more about this historical period. Conley gives few insights into Cherokee life or thoughts. George Panther simply reacts to events. He has no circumspection and as for motivation for all the evils he encounters the facts are scanty.

There is a virtual bloodbath with characters brutally murdered by killers who simply kill. If the "evil genius" that challenges Pantherís good is so powerful how did he accumulate his powers? Who is he and where did he come from? None of this is ever explained. Indeed, the reason he is hired to attack Panther is dismissed in one paragraph and is most unsatisfactory. At times I felt as if I were 'reading a slasher movie script'!

I give Conley credit for not dwelling on the "corrupt white manís world" versus the "simple, nature-loving red man" stereotype. But, even that would have provided more reason for the charactersí behavior than the text. Conley reduces the plot to Good versus Evil which is a travesty to human development. Are we reduced to such simplicity? I can compare Medicine War to the film Dances With Wolves. I enjoyed the portion of the film that showed Indian life and how captives were assimilated into the culture and were able to teach others about themselves and their belief system. All was tranquil and good with the United Stats soldier learning their ways. Then the totally evil "white man" appeared, so full of pollution and nastiness that he could not even understand the diary of frontier life he discovered. He chose to use the pages of the book in particularly vulgar manner. So is Medicine War. All that George Panther does is for good and all other is evil; neither path is believable.

I may try the next George Panther novel in hopes he has learned retrospection, but then perhaps Tony Hillermanís Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee have spoiled me. I want heroes who are human.


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