Blending mystery and the complexities of criminal cases on the tribal lands in Oklahoma, Scalp Dance: A Sam Chitto Mystery by Lu Clifton opens just outside of Hugo, Oklahoma. Lieutenant Sam Chitto is a member of the Oklahoma Choctaw Police. A man of honor and principles haunted by his past, he is also very frustrated with the rules and regulations regarding crimes and jurisdictional land boundaries. Frustration stemming from situations such as the current rape case he working where a non-Indian is the assailant and most likely nothing is ever going to happen to him.
Sam Chitto has made it clear to Director Daniel Blackfox that he wants and needs a change from the normal daily grind though this new case he had handed to him is not what he had in mind. The case involves the homicide of a man found on the Tuskahoma council house grounds. The victim was decapitated which, while clearly the cause of death, was also done in such a way to leave very little evidence behind. The head, once removed, was placed next to the body. It is also apparent that prior to death the deceased had been spread eagled and staked down to the dried ground made hard by the summer heat. Despite what must have gone on there is nearly no evidence on or around the body. Since the dead man, one Delbert Wilcox not listed on the tribal roll, was married to Emma Love Wilcox of the Chickasaw, Director Blackfox is going to pair Sam Chitto with Police Sergeant Frank Tubbe of the Chickasaw Nation. The director wants Tubbe and Chitto to work the case hard and fast and do as much as they can before the FBI swoops in and takes over.
That might have worked better if the person or persons involved had stopped at just one. They didn’t. As the bodies begin to accumulate, it slowly becomes clear the who and why behind it all in Scalp Dance: A Sam Chitto Mystery by Lu Clifton.
This is one of those cases where the review buzz and hype is actually warranted. Author of the middle school books titled Freaky Fast Frankie Joe, Immortal Max, and Seeking Cassandra, Lu Clifton has created a very strong novel of mystery as well as psychological complexity. She has taken the clichés of a son haunted by the unsolved case of his murdered father and a husband haunted by the death of his wife from cancer where the simple act of eating and enjoying food made by a woman could be viewed as a sign of disrespect to the dead wife, and managed to rework them both in ways that are fresh for readers. Add in various ongoing cases made more difficult by the legal complexities with regards to crimes on Indian lands in Oklahoma and more makes Scalp Dance: A Sam Chitto Mystery a solidly good read.
It will also be interesting to see what happens in the next book in the series. While the ending works and reveals the identities and motivations, it also raises at least a couple of questions in the mind of this reader as how this series will move forward. Nothing more can be said without very possibly ruining the book. That certainly will not happen here. It also would not be surprising if Scalp Dance: A Sam Chitto Mystery racked up several awards for author Lu Clifton. It truly is that good.
Scalp Dance: A Sam Chitto Mystery
Hardback (also available in eBook format)
Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano Public Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2016