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Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Winter Counts


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by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
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Quick take

Follow a twisty path of vigilantism in this gritty crime novel set on a Native American reservation.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FastRead

    Fast read

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Rural_update


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Murder



Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.

They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.

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Why I love it

You know that moment after cracking open a new book when you realize the book you’re reading is special? That there is something utterly unique and transformative about the story? It can be the first line, or a paragraph in the middle, or maybe even the very last line. Well in Winter Counts, there were countless of these moments—moments when I realized I was in the hands of a master storyteller, and that I was in for an experience unlike any I’d had before.

The novel follows Virgil Wounded Horse, a vigilante-for-hire who takes justice into his own hands when his nephew Nathan is framed for drug possession. But when his investigation takes him beyond the reservation’s borders, he realizes his mission is more complex than he could’ve imagined. Aided by an unlikely partner—his ex-girlfriend—and driven by a desire to save his own family, Virgil embarks on a dangerous journey to stop the influx of drugs.

Winter Counts is raw and uncompromising. It’s also rooted in current events, complete with a note from the author, an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota nation, on how he approached the writing of this book. Ultimately, Winter Counts is a hopeful story. It’s a hard-earned hope, but that is why it’s precious, and that is why I love this book.

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