In a blog post for Barnes & Noble, local author Marcie Rendon writes of the stories that lurk at the edge of our consciousness, waiting to be told. Stories that are “too disturbing, too hard to bear, secretive” that are waiting for “the right time, the right place, and the right way to be told.”
One such story became Rendon’s latest mystery thriller, “Sinister Graves.” In this third installment of her Cash Blackbear series, Rendon maps out a dark and desolate terrain, which readers explore with Cash as their guide.
The Red River Valley is flooded from a spring snow melt, and Cash, a 19-year-old, “tough-as-nails” Ojibwe woman, is enlisted by Sheriff Wheaton to help solve the murder of a woman whose body is washed up by the floodwaters. In uncovering clues, Cash’s intuition – “special abilities” that have helped her solve cases for Wheaton before – leads her to a small church, isolated and well off the beaten path, where she sees two little graves. She can’t shake the feeling that she’s needed there.
Wheaton is away for most of this story, and Cash is left to her own devices. There are plenty of reasons not to go down that road, but because Cash is going anyway, her faithful readers will trudge in the cold and the mud alongside her. The result is downright chilling.
With expertly crafted suspense, the story is a page turner both when Cash is on and off the case. Fans will be pleased to see Cash is still running the pool tables – and may even have met her match. And as a character who prefers solitude, Cash also begins interacting with more people, including a possible romantic interest.
“She had very limited relationships in “Murder on the Red River” [the first of the series]. Very few, very limited,” said Rendon. “It’s like her world is growing bigger.”
Who would ever know?
The story that became “Sinister Graves” was first imagined in 1990 when Rendon traveled through a remote part of Idaho and found a family graveyard with several children buried there, all under the age of two. The dates didn’t coincide with a flu pandemic, which led Rendon to question what might have happened. Could their deaths have been the result of desperate acts committed by a mother suffering from post-partum depression? And who, out here isolated from everyone else, would ever know?
Somehow this story decided it was time to be told.
The fictional novel was written before the pandemic and before the very real uncovering of a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada, in 2021. This would mark only the beginning; more remains have been found at other locations, and numbers are expected to reach well into the thousands of people presumed buried in boarding schools across Canada and the U.S.
Rendon pointed out that these were government agencies and Christian, church-sanctioned boarding schools – large institutions run by people who were aware of what was happening. But what of the foster care system?
“Thousands upon thousands of Indian kids were placed in these rural farms, places of isolation, and they were moved so often. One day a foster kid would be in school, the next, you know, they would just be gone,” said Rendon. “How many of those kids are in some fields or tree grove? I mean, that’s where my brain goes.”
“With the foster care, it just seems way more untrackable,” she said. “Kind of like the missing and murdered [Indigenous women].” Her book is dedicated to #mmiw and #stolenlives.
Also in the news, the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is now before the U.S. Supreme Court on a challenge to its constitutionality. The ICWA was enacted to ensure Native kids would first be placed with Native families or the tribe before going into foster care, where countless stories of abuse occurred and which traumatized generations of Indigenous Peoples.
For Rendon, these hard stories are easier to write as fiction because she can control the outcome.
“Even though there’s dire things that happen, even though there’s murder, even though there’s abuse, in my mind, as a human being outside of being a writer, I know there’s a resolution, I know that it’s going to be solved,” she said.
In “Sinister Graves” – and “Murder on the Red River” and “Girl Gone Missing” before it – Cash Blackbear is on the case. Luckily for fans, a fourth story is already in the works.
An enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, Rendon is an award-winning author, poet and playwright and was the recipient of the 2020 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award. She resides in the Standish neighborhood of Minneapolis. Since September, Rendon has been working on a writing and healing project at Little Earth called Unconquered Nations. The project involves meeting monthly with the Little Earth Protectors, a small group of women, and writing their stories about their efforts to protect Little Earth during and since the Uprising. The hope is to publish a Chapbook, or small publication, in May.
Some signed copies of “Sinister Graves” are available at local independent bookstores. Visit Rendon’s website at marcierendon.com and follow her at facebook.com/MarcieRendonMN.
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