4 out of 4 stars
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Set in the early days of Oklahoma’s statehood, Dire Wolf of the Quapaw (Jubal Smoak Mysteries Book 1) by Phil Truman is a mystery that follows Jubal Smoak, a US marshal, as he investigates the recent killings of the Jakes, a Quapaw family; the only survivor of the gruesome attack is a young boy. As his investigation begins, Smoak searches for his nemesis, Crow Redhand, a Quapaw and the main suspect in the grim killings. However, the circumstances surrounding the Jakes’ deaths are more than strange: claw marks and the savaged state of the bodies suggest something much more sinister than a human killer. During the course of his investigation, Smoak befriends Wil, a cousin of Crow Redhand. Although Smoak and Wil work together, the marshal is constantly uneasy about Wil and his familial ties. Not only does the marshal have to navigate the Quapaw people and the lore surrounding the ghastly killings, but the harsh winter weather and a ferocious pack of wolves further complicate Smoak’s investigation.
Told in the first person perspective, Smoak proves to be an engaging and memorable narrator. Truman weaves the right amount of background information into the narration to give readers a clear idea of who Smoak is, ensuring his actions throughout the novel align with the persona Truman created. Moreover, Smoak’s narration is honest, making this story all the more immersive. A reader can feel Smoak’s trepidation about certain characters, fears about the environment, skepticism about native lore, and modesty about his own abilities. The author also gives Smoak a few qualities that set the narrator apart from typical heroes of the genre: Smoak has a physical limitation and is a terrible shot.
In addition to the accomplished narrative style, I thoroughly enjoyed the development of the environment and time period as main characters in this novel. Set during a time when horses are used as a main means of travel, electricity is new and scarce, and the medical field is still in its infancy, Truman’s setting and descriptions are realistic, and his storytelling is true to the period. Additionally, the harsh winter conditions Smoak faces add to the eeriness of his investigation and further the feelings of trepidation he conveys in his narration.
Regarding characters, Truman expertly explores the tension between all of his characters but most notably between Smoak, a white lawman, and his native counterparts. Truman doesn’t sugarcoat these relationships, and Smoak enters each new relationship or encounter with an appropriate amount of skepticism. Additional secondary characters also approach each interaction with skepticism, which coincided with the unforgiving nature of the setting and time period. This tension adds layers to the intricate plotting, leaving one guessing about the characters’ intentions and the ultimate outcome of the mystery.
Overall, Truman expertly sets up all aspects of this novel. The honesty of Smoak’s first-person narration, the harshness of the severe mid-west setting, and the tension between the characters all contribute to making Dire Wolf of the Quapaw an engaging story that is impossible to put down. I highly recommend this book to fans of period mysteries and westerns. Fans of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire Mysteries are sure to enjoy this book. Like Longmire, Smoak is an admirable character, engaging narrator, and a lawman most readers would be eager to follow. For my thorough enjoyment of this book and inability to find any negative criticism, I rate Truman’s work 4 out of 4 stars.
Dire Wolf of the Quapaw
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