In a guest blog post for Barnes & Noble’s BN Reads, Marcie Rendon wrote that the idea for her newest mystery Sinister Graves, was born in the late 1990s at a small cemetery plot in Idaho. On a road trip, she pulled over to see the graves of three children and their parents – the children all dying before they were two years old, and she wondered about how the children might have died. Her newest mystery in the Cash Blackbear series, Sinister Graves, places Cash smack dab in the middle of such a mystery.
On the dedication page to Sinister Graves, Rendon has included the #stolenchildren and #mmiw. The book was conceived long before the mass graves of children were discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada in 2021, but she has dedicated the book to the memory of the children as well as the countless missing and murdered indigenous women.
In 1970 in the Red River Valley of Minnesota, a snowmelt has sent floodwaters down to the fields of the valley, dragging the body of an unidentified Native woman into the town of Ada. Cash Blackbear, Rendon’s 19-year-old Ojibwe protagonist has been enlisted on several cases to assist Sheriff Wheaton, her guardian, on his cases. Her sixth sense – the ability to see spirits and situations in the past and the future – come in handy when there are few physical clues. In this newest case, the only clue is a hymn written in English and Ojibwe tucked inside the bra of a dead woman. Following her gut and this lead, Cash returns to the White Earth Reservation, a place she called home before being placed in white foster homes off the reservation. There, she finds two small graves in the yard of a rural Pentecostal church, and she suspects that the pastor and his wife may be able to tell her more about the young souls buried there.
Cash is one of my favorite anti-heroes – she’s a brash, beer-drinking, pool-playing Ojibwe woman who has aged out of the foster care system. In this newest installment, Cash is still attending junior college. She still smokes like a stack, but she’s less hell-bent on her own destruction. Wheaton’s newest young charge, Geno, introduces her to Jonesy, a Native woman who I hope will show up in future installments. Jonesy knows a lot about Cash, though she’s never met her before. She gives Cash a bag of Indian tobacco and counsels her to put some out from time to time. For someone who was removed from her culture and the elders who could have taught her, Jonesy may provide Cash with a bridge back to her Native roots.
“Keep the pouch in your glove box. Put some tobacco out when you’re gonna take off some place. You’ll be fine.”
Sinister Graves confronts the clash between Christianity and the misuse of power against Native Americans. It’s another heart-pounding mystery in the Cash Blackbear series from Marcie Rendon – there was not going to be any sleep for me until I turned the last page – but it’s more than just an engrossing read.
As Marcie Rendon writes, “Sometimes reality is too heavy to comprehend, but by using our creative energy, our creative life source, stories can be told in ways that are more palatable to the soul. Sometimes what is incomprehensible can be understood when it is fictionalized. In this way, not only can creative writing be a form of activism to create awareness and bring about change, but it can also be a form of healing. It can be a way for individuals to touch the flame, feel the heat, but not become burned.”