Cover Image: Sinister Graves

Sinister Graves

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Cash Blackbeard is a 19 year old Ojibwa woman in 1970s Minnesota and North Dakota. She is a criminal justice student and sometimes helps her guardian, Sheriff Wheaton with cases. An unidentified Native American woman washes up dead and Cash sets out to the White Earth Reservation to try to identify her. Along the way there is another murder and she discovers two small mysterious graves near a rural church with a charismatic pastor and his troubled wife. The author provides insight to the Native American experience and deals with the sad plight of missing young indigenous women.

Was this review helpful?

Mystery | Adult
<cover image>
Ididn’t realize this was a mid-series entry until after I’d requested it. There are several references to previous mysteries, but they are not key to this storyline, and I enjoyed it as a standalone mystery. Set in Fargo, North Dakota, in the early 1970s, this is third in the series featuring Renée “Cash” Blackbear, a nineteen-year-old Indigenous woman who survived the foster system. Cash is a smoker, drinker, and a pool shark; she drives a Ranchero, has a brother doing a tour in Viet Nam, and occasionally works with the local sheriff while she’s attending college. She is distrustful of almost everyone, and doesn’t really get how telephones work, choosing to ignore it most of the time. In this mystery, Sheriff Wheaton asks her to look into the background of an unidentified woman whose body washed up in a flood; she appears to be Native American, and quite young. As she tries to find out who the woman is, Cash learns about a charismatic preacher, his rather strange wife, and their church with a small graveyard haunted by an evil shadowy presence. There are a lot of supernatural elements here, from astral projection to mind reading and ghostly apparitions. The mystery itself is a bit predictable, with a rather unlikely plot twist involving multiple personalities. (Remember, this is set before Sybil became a household topic.) Additionally, the writing needs some tightening up; it feels staccato at times, and there is truly no need to explain what an outhouse is! Still, I really liked Cash as a character; a deeply self-protective person, she is also self-reliant, smart, and an occasionally moody loner who is open to change. That’s a remarkable bit of optimism for a foster system survivor. Like other reviewers, I found the constant smoking a bit irritating, but otherwise enjoyed the well-researched historical setting, though I’m pretty sure no one called any house telephone a “landline” in the 70s. I’m intrigued enough that I’ll look for the earlier entries in the series. Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library carries a copy in its mystery collection. My thanks to Soho Crime for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel:

Was this review helpful?

*Some spoilers included*
Thank you to Soho Press for an ARC of Sinister Graves!

Everything about this story appealed to me when I first heard of it. Set in the 70s. An Ojibwe character and author. A crime mystery. Special abilities that set the main character apart. All of that is delivered, and more, in the book.

Although this is part of a series, it does act as a standalone and was fairly easy to follow. Everything in Cash’s past that is important is mentioned in a way that makes it quick to pick up. Having not read the previous books, this was still a nice introduction into Cash’s story.

There are multiple questions that have to be answered, a murder that needs to be solved, mysterious happenings, and cultural factors woven into the story. I wanted to know what was going on, even if at some points the plot did feel a bit prediactable. I still was eager to turn the page to see where the story was going.

Cash is also the definition of cool, calm, collected (when not facing harrowing situations) and even though it’s not usually my preference of character, I found her entertaining to read about. Her personality is consistent and feels fairly similar to what I would imagine for someone in her situation of her age in that period of time. The trauma from her past was apparent in every mannerism she had without it being an outright constant reminder. The author did a wonderful job of portraying that so well.

Now, I wanted to rate this higher and share this book with everyone but after getting towards the end, I feel like I can’t. Using dissociative identity disorder for a plot point and for the reasoning behind everything bad happening in town doesn’t sit right with me. Not to mention, the repeated discussion of it being “crazy.” I could let that sort of comment slide about anything else given the time period and that being an accurate reaction, but it felt unnecessary. It’s also a plot that has been used in horror and crime for a long time, so not only is it harmful, but it’s a little prediactable/something everyone has seen before. I’m not sure if the author has DID and maybe put that in the book because it was relatable to them, but I just have a strong sense that that is not the case.

I’m sure plenty of people will take no issue with that, but for me, it’s not something I can overlook.

Overall, the book does have good, interesting writing and the concept is cool. However, there are just some things I cannot look past with this.

Was this review helpful?

Marcie Rendon has created a series with such authenticity, and such a nuanced main character, that I want it to go on for a good long time. I would recommend these books to anyone who likes a good mystery, a strong main character, a superb sense of place, and a writing style that draws readers right into the heart of each book. You could pick up Sinister Graves and read it without feeling lost, but to get the full effect of Cash Blackbear and the life she's had to lead in the Red River country of 1970s Minnesota and North Dakota, I highly recommend reading the books in order, starting with Murder on the Red River and continuing with Girl Gone Missing.

One of the best things about this series is watching Cash Blackbear's world open before her very eyes. This nineteen-year-old has survived a series of abusive foster parents and back-breaking work as a farmhand (since the age of eleven). Her life only began to take a turn for the better when she became emancipated at the age of sixteen. She's had an apartment of her own since then, and she's been under the caring, watchful eye of Sheriff Wheaton, a man I would love to know more about.

With Wheaton's encouragement, Cash has started going to college. She knows when she must study. She knows when she needs to get her laundry and housecleaning done. She keeps in touch with the farmers in the area so she knows when there will be work, and when she's not driving her Ford Ranchero, she spends the rest of her time shooting pool in a local bar. She's quite good, and the money she wins helps pay the rent.

Cash is a young woman who knows a lot but doesn't want much. Why dream of things she can't have (or things that will be taken away from her)? This is what her life has taught her so far. But things can change, and they are during the course of this series. Cash has even begun thinking about buying her own house because, if she does, no one can ever tell her to leave. This young woman is sad, sharp, funny, and very intuitive. It's been a pleasure getting to know her.

In Sinister Graves, Cash works to find out what happened to the dead Native girls, and it's not easy. She's going to have to deal with a whole new kind of crazy as she searches for answers. This character and her investigations are so addictive that I can't wait for the next book in the series. Bring it on!

Was this review helpful?

In this book, the North Dakotan setting is as much a character as any of the people who appear in the story. And overall I liked the setting more than Cash, the main character, although she was growing on me by the end. This is one of those books that is hard for me to review, because I think it's very well-written and has some interesting plot twists. At the same time, it's more noir style than I like, and I'm also tired of books where all of the Christian characters only represent the worst. (I also get tired of Christian novels that avoid showing those Christians who do evil things.) I long for stories where Christians just "are," both the good and the bad. I recommend this book for readers who want a picture of life on and near Native reservations as well as those who like a well-written noir thriller with a strong hint of the supernatural.

Was this review helpful?

Sinister Graves, the latest novel by Marcie R. Rendon, will be released on October 11, 2022. Soho Press provided an early galley for review.

I got to know this author and series from the first title Murder On the Red River which we read for our library book club a few months back. I recently read the second of the series Girl Gone Missing as well. Taken together with this one, you can see the evolution that Rendon is going through with her heroine in this series set in the early 1970's. She writes about the Native American experience at the time with stories set in a locale that is familiar to her growing up. That grounds this whole series in a very believable, very comfortable setting.

Sinister Graves feels more like a mystery than the first two of the series. Those were very character-focused, setting up Cash and her world and outlining the changes the young woman is experiencing. This one has a stronger vibe to it as Cash, now more assured of herself, is actively investigating a murder and more. I like this evolution. The story this time is also very complex with many layers. I like that Rendon does not tie-up every loose end nor does she feel that every question needs a clear answer. This is just like life.

As with the first two books, this one is also a fairly easy going read. Again, I think that is due to the author writing from what she knows. It feels natural and organic because the author appears to be very comfortable with everything. I can also see Rendon growing as a fiction author as well, building on what worked previously as well as expanding her literary skills. I am enjoying being on this journey with her and Cash.

Was this review helpful?

If you enjoy rural crime writing that offers unique characters and vividly evoked settings along with intriguing plotlines laced with real-life issues, then run don’t walk to add Marcie R Rendon’s superb books starring tough Ojibwe teenager Cash Blackbear to your must-read pile.

In this absorbing third novel, Cash’s brother has returned to Vietnam and a snowmelt has flooded the fields and towns of the Red River Valley. The body of an unidentified Native woman is discovered among the detritus, and Sheriff Wheaton hopes Cash can help. Could the torn piece of a hymnal written in English and Ojibwe found on the woman’s body lead to her identity? Cash’s sleuthing take her back to the White Earth Reservation, a place she once called home, as well as into the lives of a charismatic pastor of a fundamentalist church and his wife, a dark ghostly presence, and a medicine woman. More dead women, and danger lurks everywhere as Cash drives across the prairie seeking answers.

With Sinister Graves, Rendon delivers much more than a very good murder mystery, using a character-centric tale to explore the prejudice and injustice faced by Native Americans. Cash Blackbear is an extraordinary heroine who’s unique and fascinating, as well as easy to ride along with. Rendon strikes a great tone, with a light touch while delving into some very serious issues, such as the (mis)treatment of young women and all the ways Native peoples have been oppressed, and worse.

Only three books in, Rendon’s created an addictive series that stands out in the sea of rural mysteries.

Was this review helpful?

After reading the first two of the Cash Blackbear mystery series, I knew Sinister Graves would not disappoint. And it didn't! In Sinister Graves. Cash's connection to her Ojibwe heritage has grown even stronger and she clearly has a stronger, more robust support system than at the start of the series. Readers are rewarded in this book by seeing Cash's strength in facing her own trauma and in trusting her own abilities. If you love Cash Blackbear from the first two, you'll love her in this!!!

Was this review helpful?

I really like Cash, a 19 year old Ojibwe woman, but I didn’t love the mystery. I question why the sheriff isn’t with her more often while she’s solving the case. But, it is the 70s, things were different?
I’d like to see more of the supernatural nature of her gift explored.

Was this review helpful?

Sinister Graves brings one of my favorite characters, Cash Blackbear, back to life in this new novel.

Cash, is a young Ojibwa woman who was separated from her family - by outer forces. a product of the foster system. The result is that she feels separate from the customs and language of her own people so she exists on the peripheral of the tribe. Sheriff Wheaton has served as a mentor for her and she assists him in solving crimes. who looks out for her and she helps him solve crimes.

Sinister Graves tells the story of young indigenous women and their children who are disappearing. When bodies are found in a church yard, the plot deepens.

Cash and Wheaton must solve the crime.

Was this review helpful?

The main draw of this series is the protagonist, Cash Blackbear, a 19-year-old Ojibwe woman who assists the local white sheriff on certain cases - this time the discovery of a Native American woman’s body in the spring floodwaters.

Cash is a loner who grew up in white foster homes and feels distanced from her own people. I enjoyed her tentative efforts towards relationships with a potential love interest, a billiards partner, a suspicious dog, and an old medicine woman.

The mystery had a paranormal aspect due to Cash’s “sixth sense” and the presence of a jiibay (ghost). The focus was on an isolated church with two children’s graves in the cemetery. I found it a bit repetitive, with Cash driving back and forth between the same few locations, and I didn’t quite get the arrangement of having an untrained teenager investigating on her own while the sheriff was mostly absent. Nevertheless, I found Cash appealing and look forward to her previous and future adventures.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

Was this review helpful?

This series keeps getting better as it follows 19-year old Renee "Cash" Blackbear in 1970s Minnesota. Aside from the mystery, the period touches are intringuing. Cash, an Ojibwe, was raised in a series of foster homes separate from her heritage--she doesn't know the Ojibwe language and is called a "town Indian" by her peers. She has a mentor of sorts in the local sheriff who calls upon her skills from time to time, but otherwise she spends her time hustling pool, working odd jobs, and completing the necessary homework for her college classes. Cash is a complex character with a unique perspective on life, and I'm eager to see where she goes.

Thanks to Soho Press for access to a digital ARC via NetGalley.

Was this review helpful?

As the novel opens, it's early spring and Cash Blackbear is getting a ride across the flooded Red River Valley to meet with Sheriff Wheaton, her friend and former guardian, who needs her help identifying a native woman found dead. Cash is Ojibwe and can ask around the White Earth reservation to see what she can learn. Her inquiries lead her to a charismatic church out on the prairie led by a handsome pastor. There's something wrong, there. Cash sees a dark shadow lurking around the nearby cemetery where two graves raise questions. Another one of Wheaton's Ojibwe proteges names the dark shadow and takes her to a woman who can provide protective medicine. Clearly something bad is going on at that church and Cash is going to find out what it is.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery, the third in a series but the first I have read. Cash is an interesting figure, raised in abusive foster homes, straddling the White Earth and white communities as she plays pool, takes college classes, and drinks beer. The pacing is amiable and builds slowly to a dramatic resolution, tapering off afterward, keeping Cash's story well braided with the mystery plot. The style of writing is deceptively flat, like the landscape, but its matter-of-factness is never clumsy or inelegant. It fits Cash's straightforward character and pairs interestingly with the elements that are supernatural, but feel natural. I especially appreciated that the author doesn't pause to explain things to white folks; it's Cash's story, on her terms. I'm glad Soho is reissuing the previous books in the series and hope it will bring Rendon a larger audience.

Was this review helpful?