Tuesday, October 01, 2019


I've really enjoyed Marcie R. Rendon's first two Cash Blackbear mysteries. Marcie (White Earth Anishinabe) writes them for adults, but older teens will also find them engaging. I recommend them. They aren't the focus of this post; just wanted to mention Murder on the Red River and Girl Gone Missing before moving on to the actual topic.

Michael Hutchinson is a citizen of the Misipawistik Cree Nation, and his The Case of Windy Lake (Second Story Press, 2019) is the first installment in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery series.

Hutchinson's Mighty Muskrats are four cousins--Atim, Chickadee, Otter, and Sam-- who live on the Windy Lake First Nation (pretty sure this is a fictional location) in what's currently called Canada. These tweens are smart, curious, and resourceful. They operate out of an incapacitated school bus on the outskirts of their reservation community.

It's tempting to do a chapter-by-chapter look at what makes this book so appealing -- but with mysteries, that can mean spoilers. So I'll just sum up.

The first case the Muskrats take on is the disappearance of an archaeologist who was working for a mining company in the area. There's a subplot involving a beloved older cousin who actively opposes the mining company's actions that she knows will endanger the community's water supply. A lot of Indigenous communities have dealt with well-educated fools coming in to study them, and lots of Native kids have relatives who are involved in Indigenous environmental rights (and they may be activists themselves). The book's main antagonist is a white mine manager; when he talks to the kids and their family members we see the same entitled hostility and disrespect Indigenous people encounter in real life today when they stand against exploitation and destruction of their resources.

The kids use the internet as well as knowledge of their community and their natural surroundings to solve the mystery, and they don't get in the way of law enforcement (their uncle) or need to be rescued. There's a nice all-for-one-and-one-for-all feeling about their relationships. For example, when they're about to go get information from someone in a restaurant, Atim says he's hungry. Chickadee asks, "Do we have any money?" and Otter pulls some from his pocket. They count it ... triumph! They can split an order of fries and a pop, and that's fine with everyone.

 Details add to the sense of place, as in Hutchinson's description of that restaurant:
The jukebox was playing "Love Hurts" by Nazareth. Scarred and scuffed blue-and-once-white tiles covered the floor. Sun streamed in from windows that overlooked the gas pumps, the parking lot, and the trucks buzzing north up the highway.... Half the restaurant was occupied by First Nations people hunkered over cups of coffee. A few tables held non-local miners and highway travelers. Laughter was coming from most tables and jokes were being shared between a few. The quiet tables held smiling Elders. 
The author's ability to show the reader a scene or a relationship is likely one reason The Case of Windy Lake won the Second Story Press Indigenous Writing Award.

Anyone looking in this book for a dysfunctional fictional rez community will have to look elsewhere. The people of Windy Lake have their troubles, but ties within families and between neighbors are solid and caring. And the resolution of the mystery is ... affirming, and that's all I'll say about it. You'll just have to read it to find out more. Then we can wait together for the next Mighty Muskrats book.

EDITED 10/3/19 with good news from two commenters. Val (10/2/19) notes that you can read the first chapter of The Case of Windy Lake on the Second Story Press Web site! And Cheriee Weichel reports that the sequel, titled The Case of the Missing Auntie, will be available in March 2020.

Edited 10/18/19 to add a link to CBC coverage of The Mighty Muskrats!

--Jean Mendoza


Deb said...

Have to pause this morning and say thank you for doing what you do. It helps with making sure we have own voices on our shelves and teaches what to watch for, question...all this I also pass on to my students when we are discussing books.

Val said...

The Second Story Press website, lets you read the first chapter. I love the depictions of the family relationships.

Cheriee Weichel said...

I loved this one. Did you know that there is a sequel, The Case of the Missing Auntie, coming out in March next year!