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Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Winter Counts


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, on your first book!

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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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Winter Counts.
Winter Counts


I leaned back in the seat of my old Ford Pinto, listening to the sounds coming from the Depot, the reservation’s only tavern. There was a stream of Indians and white ranchers going inside. I knew Guv Yellowhawk was there with his buddies, pounding beers and drinking shots. Guv taught gym at the local school— football, basketball, soccer. But, word was, he sometimes got a little too involved with his students, both boys and girls. I was going to let him get good and drunk, then the real party would start. I had brass knuckles and a baseball bat stowed in my trunk, but those wouldn’t be necessary. Guv was a fat-ass piece of shit, with a frybread gut as big as a buffalo’s ass.

I’d been hired to beat the hell out of Guv by the father of a little girl at the school. Guv had sneaked up on the girl in the bathroom, held her down, and raped her. The girl’s parents had confronted the school’s principal, but Guv came from one of the most powerful families on the rez, and the school refused to take any action. The principal had even threatened a lawsuit against the parents for making a false accusation. The tribal police couldn’t do anything. The feds prosecuted all felony crimes on the rez, and they didn’t mess with any crime short of murder. Now the little girl was too scared to go back to her class, and he was free to molest other kids.

I’d waived my fee for this job. Usually I charged a hundred bucks for each tooth I knocked out and each bone I broke, but I decided to kick Guv’s ass for free. I’d hated him for years—even as a teenager, he was a mean asshole who’d terrorized other kids, especially iyeskas like me. Of course, Guv had always been accompanied by his gang; I couldn’t remember him ever fighting solo. But tonight was his time.

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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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Member ratings (11,494)

  • Kimberly W.

    Westminster, CO

    This was such a thought provoking and beautifully written novel that was quite factual even though it’s a novel. It was difficult looking into reservation life and the struggles that are overcome. 5⭐️

  • natasha n.

    tustin, CA

    Friends - this is one of the best multi-dimensional mystery stories I have ever read. I’m talking beautiful imagery combined with a gritty vengeance and deep-rooted introspection. HELLO, LAYERS! ????????

  • Trisha B.

    Norman, OK

    A look into life that few get to see from the side of the “rez.” This book is a solid small town crime novel with some important cultural touchstones. This is a tv series I would totally watch—make it

  • Dylan S.

    Lakewood, CO

    I LOVED THIS BOOK! The characters are believable and this story took me for an emotional ride from the very beginning. It’s a true testament to what loss is, what family means, and doing what’s right.

  • Briana T.

    Doral, FL

    Ahhh so good! Read it in 3 days. Happy ending, thank God, because otherwise I don’t think I would’ve been able to handle it. Loved learning about Native culture. Forces you to ponder American justice.

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