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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do you REALLY know who-dunnit?
Sherman Alexie delivers again, coming through this time with a brilliant look at prejudice, hatred, fear, community and lack of community. Although the Amazon.com blurb and the reviews of others on this list seem to suggest the killer's identity, don't believe it. The killer is carefully constructed so that the reader has no clue as to the killer's gender, age, tribal...
Published on July 9, 1997

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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wooden Whites
I've read this book four times now. There are a few passages so well-crafted that I enjoy reading them even now. However, the book is not without problems, at least in my opinion. These problems do not by any means destroy the story. They simply make it a bit less than it could be.

In my opinion, any novel that addresses issues of race and racism best strikes a...
Published on March 9, 2006 by Thomas M. Basch, MD


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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do you REALLY know who-dunnit?, July 9, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Indian Killer (Hardcover)
Sherman Alexie delivers again, coming through this time with a brilliant look at prejudice, hatred, fear, community and lack of community. Although the Amazon.com blurb and the reviews of others on this list seem to suggest the killer's identity, don't believe it. The killer is carefully constructed so that the reader has no clue as to the killer's gender, age, tribal affiliation -- in fact, the killer could just as well be white, since scalping was a practice that originated with European traders, rather than with Native tribes. Alexie blurs the killer's identity on purpose -- perhaps to reveal our own prejudices. If you believe only Indians can scalp, then you will believe the killer is an Indian. If you believe all races are capable of equal savagery against each other, then the killer could be anyone. Read this book and test your own prejudices -- racial, sexual, and sociological prejudices. You may surprised to find out something about yourself as well as about Alexie's gift with words. My review may make INDIAN KILLER sound like a social or political manifesto, but more than anything else, the novel is a vibrantly written murder mystery, a real, honest-to-God page-turner. You won't be able to put it down
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint of heart . . ., September 12, 2000
By 
DMD (Seattle, WA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Indian Killer (Paperback)
But excellent for book group discussions. A friend of mine scared me away from Indian Killer for months because he was so put off by Alexie's "explosive anger and hatred." I put the book on the shelf until I felt I could take the heat, but my book group made the decision for me. Once started, I couldn't put it down . . . I finished the book in three days.
First let me start with a warning: Alexie IS angry--he is spitting-bullets-pissed-off-angry--and this is not an easy book to read. However, Alexie is also a wonderful writer who delights in knocking the reader out of his/her comfort zone and probing sharply at his/her sense of the ironic. To me the book seethes more than it explodes--it penetrates the veneer of political correctness and exposes the fear, confusion, and rage that boils beneath the surface.
A challenging and powerful read that stays with you, Indian Killer pushes buttons--just look at the customer reviews. Most reviews speculate who the killer is, and why the killer exists, but to Alexie, I think it is less important who the Indian Killer is, than what s/he represents. The killer is a physical manifestation of racism itself--representing rage, frustration, confusion, but most of all fear. Indian Killer is a book that inspires and terrifies, is violent and righteous, is brave and despicable, and challenges the reader to reevaluate traditional notions of black and white, right and wrong. Read it with a book group and watch the speculations fly.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Indian Killer -- John Wayne Flipped Around, October 3, 2005
This review is from: Indian Killer (Paperback)
Alexie is a riveting writer who can make the heart pound and the breath freeze. He's also refreshingingly honest about the disconnect between the violence and suffering and soul-destroying abandonment forced upon First Nations people and the absence of recognition of that destruction by its perpetrators. As a mystery, it's a terrific read, a Dean Koontz or Steven King' telling of the wicked gone awry.

As a well-rounded retelling of what goes on inside people's hearts -- and how they run or wallow in their fears -- it's more like a gothic murder mystery dressed up in Indian clothes. If you don't know any of the history or the people, it's fascinating reading. But once you've finished the book, you realize, excepting the African American characters, everyone body else is one-dimensional -- even if exotic. All the "wannabee Indians" are reduced to being hypocrites or fools. Why must this be? Go into Asian or French studies, and one gains respect as a sinologist or diplomat. Similarly, the book is full of white boys and Indian boys who's only emotion is getting revenge. Yawn.

However, if you do read the work as an expose of how little we do know of the past and what masquerades as authority, the work is powerful. First off, we're tremendously ignorant about our own history. The word redskins became prominent in the 19th century because European Americans no longer could tell the First Nations apart. Take a 1,000 books on First Nations and 980 of them are the same old coffee table book on "Indians of North America" just getting recycled. Of the 20 remaining titles, 15 may provide information at the tribal level, and only 1 will be an actual biography. That leaves only 4 titles that were written by people who knew the languages. These could be reprints of a French of British work from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, or, if your damn lucky, your bookstore will carry something by contemporary First Nations writers, such as Mary Harjo, Simon Ortiz or Joseph Bruchac. Sadly, Alexie does not quote these people in his book. However, Alexie is right, if you don't know your past, it will come back to haunt you.

The second reason why the book is so compelling is that though the story is about the infant who is all but ripped from his mother's uterus to be raised by others, it is really about the mother -- who in order to survive herself must cut herself off from her own flesh in blood. She must become invisible in order to survive, which her son mirrors by learning the chants to make himself invisible as he carries out his deeds -- not all of which are evil. Although Alexie doesn't overtly raise it, we all know from history that First Nations families had been split apart and murdered for centuries. While Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclaimation in 1863, the northern midwestern states publicly paid bounties on Indian scalps -- at least African slaves had value as living beings. Within a few years of the Battle of Little Bighorn, Canada and the United States in 1881 both passed NATIONAL laws that forced the surviving native peoples into internal exile -- to live on lands where they did not come from; banned them from speaking their own languages; and, forbidding them to practice their own religion. It took nearly a century before these human rights were restored to First Nations people. The path of repression and assimilation is also forced on the lead character of Alexie's novel.

Ironically, the stolen little boy gets renamed John Smith, the most non-descript name among European Americans. Poor John Smith has not only lost his inheritance, but he has no identity even in his adoptive parents' culture. Alexie's description of the loss of self, loss of relationship, and the grandiose fears that grow in the poor boy's heart is phenomenal. John Smith is clearly afraid to be himself -- and what's worse, he doesn't know how. He doesn't even know which Nation he comes from and in this sense, he is as ignorant as the European Americans around him.

Alexie doesn't resolve the disconnect between the past and the present, the chasm between John's birth parents and adoptive parents, and the break between the wannabees and the bloods (which, by the way, is another 19th century myth from European culture). However, in bringing this pain to mind and heart, Alexie has achieved no small or easy thing. While Alexie is not asking us to bury the hatchet, he does do a remarkable job of asking us to walk in another man's shoes.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who WAS that Owl-Masked-Man (Killer), Anyway?, June 10, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Indian Killer (Audio Cassette)
The above reviews all assume that John is the serial killer. John is "despicable" (as one fellow up there says) only if you despise the totally crazy, which John became by "kidnapping" to be raised by a rich white couple, leaving him unable to find a viable identity-center for himself -- neither as Indian (from his appearance and unknowable tribe, or as white). John is characterized as getting crazier and crazier as the book progresses. But his only violent action is at the very end.

They can't read, I guess.

John makes *one* try at killing a rather pitiful ex-cop who poses as an Indian writer with what seems like a pretty bad book about a not-very-Indian detective. (The white cop may actually have an Indian ancestor, who was a regionally notorious homeless bum. The cop gloms onto this possible ancestor for an obscure tribal personal identity because his own young life in foster homes -- and his life as a cop -- are unbearable to him.) And John doesn't kill *him*. Though he may have started with that idea, he is too insane to accomplish it. He kills himself, leaving the cop, slightly wounded, tied to a girder in the last tall building being built in Seattle.

Alexie surrounds each killing, and the kidnapping of a small boy (who is returned unharmed by the invisible Owl-spirit killer) with plenty of clues that John could not have done any of the killings and stalkings, except the last one -- he cuts the cop's ear off -- that ends in his own suicide.

Alexie also provides several fully-characterized killer-suspects, from college student activist Marie, who confronts the hateful phoney Indian Studies prof repeatedly and stalks him once, as well as feeding the Seattle under-city homeless many of whom are Indians, to her cousin, whose white "daddy" personifies the BIA, and totally warped his son, who has become a worthless, violent phoney. Each of these people are "suspects" only because they are writhing in rage at what has been done to them personally, but they are also personifications or stand-ins for their people

Each of these suspects has been maimed and damaged by partial destruction of their Indian identity. Each creates some kind of pseudo-Indian-identity in an attempt to survive as Indian people. John, being totally insane, does the best identity creation job, with an invented tribe, imaginary relatives, made-up Indian language, and imaginary sidebar tribal life.

No one seems to have noted the first or last scenes of this book.

The first scene -- where newborn John is "kidnapped" by a military helicopter to be delivered to his rich liberal white adoptive parents -- clues us that this book is an allegory of Indian rage at the continuing destructions of "the Longest War." The physical exterminations aside, the longest destructive official governmental policy and actions have always centered on destroying Indian identity, language, culture, families, and tribes. "Assimilate or die" as one character puts it. What are the alternatives for the Indian person who rejects either of those two? The killer is one such, Alexie warns.

The last scene tells us who did these killings -- why, "It could have been *any one of us,* white-eyes, and the death-owls are flying now, in this ceremony of rage and survival, so watch out. "

The book masquerades as a conventional serial-killer story, but it is both allegorical and surrealistic.

And realistic, too, of course. The kidnapping of Indian children, under the guise of welfare, of helping them, still goes on, somewhat more covertly, despite the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is supposed to give tribes a say-so in this genocidal reduction of numbers of their citizens. I accidentally happened upon 2 websites NOW that market Indian kids for adoption, complete with color pix and tribal identifications (mostly Standing Rock, South Dakota, Lakota) of the merchandise, for example. Found by accident, these websites of charity-agencies left me shaking with rage. Need a few owls around here.

Reviewed by Paula Giese, Editor, Native American Books website, [...]
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars INCREDIBLE THRILLER, November 24, 2005
This review is from: Indian Killer (Paperback)
Some jump on Alexie, but he writes as he sees it - through the eyes of one who has lived on America's Indian Reservations. He writes what he knows about, as do most great writers and you can't fault him for forcefullness. In Alesie's case, it's about being an American Indian living on a reservation and then leaving and entering the land of 'white'. He's felt the prejudments of a nation and watched those who think it's "cool" to wear feathers and smoke their stash in scared pipes. Our reservations are homes for the poorest of the poor in America, where life is one unprecedented struggle after another. It's a lifetime of trying to find your way and trying to fit in somewhere. Those who find his words strong and insultive haven't emerged from a history that lead a nation to turn against and displace all FIRST PEOPLES. A nation who did its' best to beat the Indian spirit into dust, as it openly attempted genocide on an entire race. There is no other culture in this country that has suffered so much and yet has stayed so true to their traditions and ancesters; or has had to fight so hard and wait so long to be recognized as a citizen of this country as has the American Indian. Alexis' words are surprisingly mild, all considering. That being said... He's an extremely talented writer and this book is a tremedious example of his great story telling. I read this book awhile ago and want to read it again. It's a compelling thriller that keeps you guessing to the very end. I thought it was an incredible book and didn't want to put it down.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Mystery with Mystical Components, March 24, 2000
This review is from: Indian Killer (Paperback)
I finished "Indian Killer" last night. I read various reviews of this book while I was reading it. I have to disagree with reviewers who claim all the white people portrayed in Alexie's book are stereotypes. I didn't find the white people to act and react any more stereotypically than the Indian characters. I felt that Alexie did an excellent job of laying out the attitudes and prejudices of both "sides" of the coin, Indian and white. Everyone makes assumptions about everyone else based on incomplete information, pride, or ignorance. It's a human thing, not an Indian thing or white thing, and Alexie weaves it into the very fabric of this mystery story. This book was grittier than I expected, based on reading previous works by this author. Alexie's scripting of John Smith's descent into unchecked schziophrenia was painfully accurate and left me reeling. Seattle's madness fluttering around Smith over the series of "Indian Killer" murders, despite the violence and pain and number of people involved, did not seem as important as one man's agony. And I'm left wondering who--or what--the killer really was. The mystical components dropped into the mix added the perfect grace note to the book. Not a happy read, but a fast and engaging one, and a fine effort by a fine writer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Killer hidden in your own Ribs, May 22, 2000
This review is from: Indian Killer (Paperback)
Alexie's "Indian Killer" is a prediction--one that foresaw the reviews posted here which remark on the book's "racism."
Readers looking for more of the clever "native narrative" in his earlier work may indeed be surprised...because this text is a twist of logic, realism, and self-knowledge. In this text, Alexie attacks the self-righteous post-haste. He doesn't want to be read because his loyal white readers want to "put food on his table" and he strives to outline more clearly the pitfalls of a thought process that cannot conceive of native people beyond the Other.
Alexie intends to wound, to stab....as much as his mystical John Smith has been wounded, as much as the secret-shrouded "Indian Killer" wounds and is wounded. Alexie is taking identity to task here; a momumentous task for anyone, but his clarity of thought is particularly probing.
He devours "authenticity" at once...none of his characters are "authentic" and yet all are destroyed by the need to be authenticated.
He attacks the concept of "native identity," revealing academic rigors on Native American studies for the theft that they are.
He shreds the "humanity" that surrounds us all and pulls all of his characters down to their skeletal selves--identity is a myriad of social connections, he seems to point out.
Indian Killer is a epitath for a generation of stolen Native American children, forced to act out the mechanisms of a cultural heritage they were denied. It is also a caution to humanity-regardless of skin color-that assumptions can be dangerous.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wooden Whites, March 9, 2006
By 
This review is from: Indian Killer (Paperback)
I've read this book four times now. There are a few passages so well-crafted that I enjoy reading them even now. However, the book is not without problems, at least in my opinion. These problems do not by any means destroy the story. They simply make it a bit less than it could be.

In my opinion, any novel that addresses issues of race and racism best strikes a chord when a reader can see his reflection in one or more of the characters. Indian Killer revolves around the interaction between whites, Indians, and, peripherally, blacks. I can't speak for Indian or black readers, but as a white reader, I couldn't see myself or any friends or acquantances in the book's white characters. The white characters seemed as wooden and as stereotyped to me as Indian characters from old movies or novels must seem to Indians. While Indian readers might find the book's white characters believable, I did not. This, in turn, made me question the authenticity of the Indian characters, leaving me with little choice other than to take the author, as an Indian, "at his word" regarding the aforementioned authenticity.

I think that if I ever wrote a novel about racial issues, I'd ask Indian or black or latino friends to contribute to my development of my book's Indian, black, or latino characters. I wouldn't be asking so much for help with vernacular, dress, mannerisms, etc. as I would be for input regarding deeper emotions, feelings about other races, etc. Similarly, if I were Alexie and I had no mentally ill children at the time of my writing of Indian Killer, I'd ask friends or acquantances with mentally ill children, or more specifically schizophrenic children, to help me develop my mother and father characters, characters in Indian Killer who slowly but steadily lose their son to psychosis. Had Alexie done so, I think he would have created a more plausable scenario for his novel. Great fiction allows the reader to logically, if only temporarily, suspend reality in favor of the author's fantasy. I wish this good novel would have done that very thing for me.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth a second look, April 10, 2007
By 
Caldonia (Corvallis OR USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Indian Killer (Paperback)
After reading other reviewers, I am amused and not a bit surprised. Sherman Alexie can't get a break - sure he is successful by many standards, but the critiques I read were watery. Useless, in fact. This book was a departure from Alexie's shorter stories - any why not? His short stories were a departure from his poems. His films have been departures in a sense, both from his texts, and also one from the other. His poetry bouts and comedy are also departures. What that says to me is you can't categorize Alexie, and thank goodness. Prolific and talented may be the two that could be applied most, and we are fortunate as his audience.

Why should Alexie make white people interesting? Though I would argue he does, this criticism is useless. White people reading his book will most likely be too busy emulating one or more of the characters.

I just finished reading the novel a second time. I read it when it first came out, and promptly gave my copy to my best friend. That was in 1996/7. I lived in Seattle at the time. Since that time I've had time to learn a lot of things from some really understanding and brilliant people. My recent reading of Indian Killer was mind-blowing. Alexie has a keen mind for detail - I am giving a lecture tonight with this text in hand, and the historical context makes my 2.5 hour class an easy one to teach. Adoption of Native children , sterilization of Native women, poverty, alcoholism, racism - all these are trends that were ultimately going to wipe out Native populations - something we know as ethnic cleansing or genocide. And these are just in recent history.

The wannabe Indian movement is where I was nailed, but thankfully schooled about in the early 90s. None of those folks I knew were wannabe drunks, wannabe in poverty, wannabe sterilized, etc. A huge trend in Seattle in the 1990s, with books like Women Who Run With the Wolves and Iron John. These movements were just another way for whites to "deal" with their complicity in how messed up the world is for over half its occupants.

Now everyone has found religion or Prozac. But its clear Alexie won't let us white folks burrow into our complacency without a fight. Thank goodness.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good, and obviously misunderstood book, August 16, 2000
By 
This review is from: Indian Killer (Paperback)
Let me start out by getting the spoiler-free portion of my review out of the way. This is a dark take on modern city Indian life that I strongly recommend to anyone interested in the subject. And it is a huge departure from Alexie's earlier work. He has always dealt with the harsh realities of Indian life, but he used humour that Indians use to survive to great affect... and it was comforting for readers as well. That is largely absent here, and readers should expect an unsettling work. The least successful part of the book were the murder scenes, as they basically resorted to thriller cliches... however the rest of this book is not a cliched thriller by any means. Nor is it a whodunnit, as many people, who have apparently read the book, seem to think...
DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK...
I am surprised that so many people think that John Smith is the killer. Sure Alexie seems to be drawing paralells between the two, but that is a common literary device and it doesn't mean that he is the killer. It serves the thematic material as well as providing a whodunnit red-herring. I think by the end of the book it perfectly obvious that in fact, he's NOT the killer. Alexie is not trying to make a mystery here, and he's perfectly happy leaving it up to the audience to decide, but the killer appears again at the end of the book, after John Smiths death. You could argue, I suppose, that it's John Smith's ghost, except that the killer bared the traits of a spirit during several of the murders (how do you think John Smith would have the ability to make himself invisible?). Alexie is hinting, I believe, that the killer is a vengeful spirit warrior, which is a very real part of Indian mythology... it's not all dream catchers and friendly spiritual stuff. But he doesn't draw any clear lines. If anyone really thinks that John Smith is the killer I suggest they reread the book.
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Indian Killer
Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie (Paperback - July 1, 2008)
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