I kinda feel bad about this one, I’ll admit it.
The last time I did a review of a book I’d been sent for review purposes was Scorpica, which turned out pretty well. In fact, rereading my review just now, it seems like that book has grown in my estimation since I read it. After that review got posted the publicist emailed me and sent me a list of the other books she was currently representing, and, well, the description for The Peacekeeper really grabbed me:
Against the backdrop of a never-colonized North America, a broken Ojibwe detective embarks on an emotional and twisting journey toward solving two murders, rediscovering family, and finding himself.
North America was never colonized. The United States and Canada don’t exist. The Great Lakes are surrounded by an independent Ojibwe nation. And in the village of Baawitigong, a Peacekeeper confronts his devastating past.
Twenty years ago to the day, Chibenashi’s mother was murdered and his father confessed. Ever since, caring for his still-traumatized younger sister has been Chibenashi’s privilege and penance. Now, on the same night of the Manoomin harvest, another woman is slain. His mother’s best friend. This leads to a seemingly impossible connection that takes Chibenashi far from the only world he’s ever known.
The major city of Shikaakwa is home to the victim’s cruelly estranged family―and to two people Chibenashi never wanted to see again: his imprisoned father and the lover who broke his heart. As the questions mount, the answers will change his and his sister’s lives forever. Because Chibenashi is about to discover that everything about their lives has been a lie.
Like, y’all know me by now. That’s my shit right there, and I jumped at this book. I’d have jumped at it even if it hadn’t been offered to me for free. A murder mystery set in an uncolonized North America? I’m in. Gimme.
I’ll cut to the chase, because I don’t like writing bad reviews unless I can make them entertaining: I needed more from this book than I got, and ended up disappointed. “North America was never colonized” is kind of a big deal, and it’s just sort of taken as a given, to the point where this book might as well have been set on another planet. It’s “now,” roughly, but there’s reference to a few big wars in the last couple of decades, and we’re on Mars, and the Ojibwe nation is more or less a utopia, in a way that ends up feeling kind of patronizing to the actual Ojibwe.(*) The murder mystery itself is kind of boring, the main character is a bit of a wanker, and the killer is clear from roughly a third of the way into the book, and I am generally very bad at predicting the killer in mysteries.
If any one of these elements were where I wanted them to be– either a little bit of explanatory history, or at least a map, or if the central mystery was more compelling, or the main character less one-note and whiny, I’d have been able to ignore the other flaws. But unfortunately the only thing that kept me from putting this down was the idea that I’d agreed to review it. I didn’t hate it– if I had, this would have been more fun to write– but I just don’t have anything good to say about it. As it stands, unfortunately, it’s just kind of blandly mediocre, and a book with this interesting of a premise being mediocre is a serious letdown.
(*) I kind of want to spend a lot of time talking about this and I kind of don’t; the notion that Ojibwe culture is the best in the world is so consistent throughout the book to the point where it feels weirdly jingoistic and propagandistic, and that’s a damned weird thing to say about a fictional country. Like, one character is an economist and a university lecture, and his alibi for the murder is that he was giving a lecture about how the Ojibwe economic system was the best in the world at a prestigious conference. That is … not how economists talk, and generally not how “prestigious conferences” go, either.