Irving’s (Courier, 2015) historical thriller, the second in his Freelancer series, offers a provocative reinterpretation of the infamous Wounded Knee incident.
Irving reprises the picaresque role of Rick Putnam, a motorcycle-riding courier and war-hardened Vietnam veteran. Set in 1973, the story centers on the Wounded Knee debacle in South Dakota, in which members of the American Indian Movement seized and occupied a small town within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In this fictional version, the activists, surrounded and beleaguered by U.S. law enforcement, are increasingly threatened with the possibility of a final, deadly raid that ends the standoff once and for all. Rick joins his Native American friend Eve Buffalo in an attempt to sneak badly needed supplies past the blockade surrounding the town. The area is crackling with violence, riddled with various tribal factions all deeply territorial, suspicious of outsiders, and accustomed to spontaneous bouts of violence. Rick, troubled by the political intrigue he encountered (and barely survived) in the previous novel, uncovers yet more subterfuge regarding the collusion of the federal government with corrupt officials within the Bureau of Indian Affairs. What follows is an action-packed adventure that incudes nefarious government forces, intramural tribal conflict, and motorcycle gangs. Rick remains the constant through the two volumes: he’s still a chain-smoking, wisecracking tough guy haunted by memories of service in Vietnam. His character can be a bit overdrawn, flirting with caricature as the wounded but incorruptible warrior with “eidetic memory.” However, his developing romance with Eve humanizes him, adding a layer of complexity and vulnerability. Once again, the story’s pace is torrid, moving from one taut scene to another while the historical drama of Wounded Knee facilitates Irving’s principal strength: rendering the wildly implausible believable. Rick’s irrepressible wit will help readers through the sometimes-dark material. In response to a Native American introducing himself as Pete Talltrees, Pawnee out of Oklahoma, Rick responds, “Rick Putnam, BMW out of Washington DC.”
A brisk, suspenseful adventure nestled in real, historical drama.