“Winter Counts;” the title says it all. Winter counts are the yearly calendars that Virgil Wounded Horse and family make, complete with a “theme” or description of the year and drawings to accompany the calendar. This year would be Virgil’s “Winter of Sorrow.” Virgil is somewhat of a fixer, a vigilante on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When the usual avenues for justice on the reservation fail, he delivers justice in a different way. Things become complicated for him when his nephew becomes involved with heroin. The federal legal system uses and abuses the family, and Virgil struggles to save himself, his nephew, and the way of life as he knows it.
The strength of this novel is the culture that it reflects. The Lakota Nation is the main character of the book. The culture, heritage, ceremonies, beliefs and way of life are the foundation of the story. As the secondary account of drug abuse on the reservation unfolds, the escapades of the fictional characters reflect actual economic struggles and cultural pressures.
“Winter Counts” by David Heska Wanbli Weiden is a murky web of crime, financial impropriety, and above all deception. Virgil Wounded Horse is a troubled and complex character, and he drives the plot. In the end, the story is about these specific people on this specific trip. The book is a little formulaic at times, but the overall narrative is compelling, entertaining, and educational.