Indian Killer

by Sherman Alexie

Hardcover, 1996

Call number




Atlantic Monthly Press (1996), Edition: 1st, 420 pages


Fiction. Thriller. HTML: A New York Times Notable Book: A series of brutal racially charged murders sets a city on edge in this thriller by a National Book Award�??winning author. A serial murderer dubbed "the Indian Killer" has Seattle living in fear. As he scalps his victims and adorns their bodies with owl feathers, the city consumes itself in a nightmare frenzy of racial tension. Then a possible suspect emerges: John Smith. An Indian raised by whites, John is lost between cultures. He fights for a sense of belonging that may never be his�??but has his alienation made him angry enough to kill? The New York Times�??bestselling author of You Don't Have to Say You Love Me and many other acclaimed works, Sherman Alexie traces John Smith's rage with scathing wit and masterly suspense, delivering both a scintillating thriller and a searing parable of race, identity, and violence. This ebook features an illustrated biography including rare photos from the author's personal collection.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member gonzobrarian
Understanding Sherman Alexie is a little complicated, a little conflicting. Listen to him speak and he'll stress that he's just a typical guy, that there's nothing really that mystical about being a Spokane Indian, or American Indian in general. Read one of his works, though, and you'll find his
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magic oozing between each page. Magic that's woven with tenderness, rage, and humor that's distinctly and unabashedly Indian. Magically real and real magic.

Such was my hunch after reading Indian Killer. Much more than a mystery, Indian Killer is an epic construct of the alienated and isolated American Indian, perhaps even just the American experience. Alexie interweaves the interconnectedness of a disparate set of characters, Indian and otherwise, within the mist and cold of Seattle.

The main theme of the story deals with the advancement of John Smith, adopted Spokane Indian by a young non-native couple from Seattle into adulthood. Smith is the symbol, the representation of alienation and marginalization, his actions set around a series of violent murders unhinging the city. The greater story, however, concerns itself more around the other archetypes Alexie so often seems conflicted with: the whites who are Indians of the "Wannabe Tribe", the academics who hijack Indian stories, the perpetually exploited and oppressed Indians, and the rednecks who take advantage when the right moment arises.

Alexie artfully interweaves each of these elements, while simultaneously providing beautifully rich detail of the setting. His description of Seattle, though not forced, is intensely deliberate. The distinctive neighborhoods, the dank roadways, the huddled yet resilient groups of homeless, the bookstores, and the water that envelops, isolates each.

In short, Indian Killer is a masterpiece. Sherman Alexie brings the Indian, but leaves the human imprint on the reader. It's a tragedy that belongs within the realm of magical realism, though savoring the magic within his writing is supremely uplifting.
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LibraryThing member safetygirl
that bit about how the skyscrapers are just giant tombstones just gets me.
LibraryThing member Batspit
Not his usual story—this book has an element of suspense. I absolutely loved it, but then, I love everything Alexie writes. The Indian Killer is either an Indian who kills white people—much like the ghost dance (the Indian killer is the ghost dance, I believe) but it could be read another
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way—the white people are the Indian killer, killing Indians left and right with only that same theme of humanity running through their heads: “Our way feels so right, so their way must be wrong”.
Alexei does a good job, this is different than his other books, but only slightly: it’s one part mystery, one part detailed fiction, one part poetry, and one part revolution. Read it. Now.
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LibraryThing member BrianDewey
Alexie, Sherman. Indian Killer. Warner Books, New York, 1996. Overall, a good tale. However, I was annoyed by the overtly political characters... too one-dimensional for my taste.
LibraryThing member pattijean
This was the first Alexie book I read, for an Anthropology class at Purdue - thanks Professor Watson (he is amazing by the way). This is a really dark mystery, involving a series of murders. It deals with racism and hate. Amazing.
LibraryThing member DianePapp
Once I started, I couldn't put it down. Had to wait for some friends to read it so we could discuss it. I even had the opportunity to meet & talk to Sherman Alexie in Cleveland! Just when you think you know "whodunnit" you never will....
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Sherman Alexie can write with humor when he wants to. This is not one of those times. He combines his usual themes of foster children, reservation life, and the plight of modern day Indians with Indian wannabes, university life and a murder mystery full of misdirection and never ending rather than
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blind alleys. Very well written leaving the reader with much to ponder. Perfect for a book club discussion.
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LibraryThing member dragonflydee1
Read this book years ago and loved it. Also had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a local college when I was living outside of Seattle, WA--he was fabulous and the place was packed!!!
LibraryThing member DK_Atkinson
I've only read this book once for a class, I need to return to it and read again at a slower pace because I know I missed things in the rush to keep up with assignments.

My professor did tell me that Sherman Alexie does not consider this one of his best works.
LibraryThing member LibraryCin
3.75 stars

John Smith was an Indian baby, given up for adoption to white parents; he is now an adult and working in construction. Marie is an Indian student, taking a Native American Literature class at school; she is also an activist, who is questioning her professor at every turn. Her cousin,
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Reggie, had previously taken the same class, but got kicked out after an altercation with that same professor. When a white man is found dead and scalped, people in Seattle are afraid, and there is much violence and retaliation on the part of both white people and Indians that takes place.

It was quick and easy to read. I kind of knew the ending before I started it, so I'm not sure if that detracted from it or not for me. I don't think so, but the ending was slightly disappointing, anyway. As a warning, this book is quite violent at times.
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge

Alexie crafts a literary thriller that explores issues of racism, isolation, and mental illness.

A serial murderer known as “The Indian Killer” is terrorizing Seattle, hunting, killing and scalping white men. John Smith was taken from his Native American teen-age mother at birth and given
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to a white couple, who adopted him and raised him in a loving family. He has grown into a strong and handsome man, who lives quietly on the fringe of society. As the story progresses it becomes clear that John suffers from mental illness. The question is whether he is the Indian Killer.

Alexie peoples his Seattle neighborhoods with a variety of characters, though most are thinly drawn. We have angry students, arrogant college professors, puzzled middle-class parents, alcoholic homeless men, and young men who prefer to use their fists. There are plenty of people here who threaten (and commit) violence on each other. Could one of them be the killer instead of John? The main problem is that none of these characters is fully fleshed out. Alexie gives us lots of hints, but few facts, and leaves us wondering “who dunnit?”

I am usually pretty tolerant of ambiguous endings, but I was disappointed in the “non-ending” here. I can only assume that this is Alexie’s way of showing that there really is no end to the hatred that we humans feel towards one another. It’s a pretty bleak outlook. Still, the book moved quickly for me; I was drawn in and couldn’t read fast enough.
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LibraryThing member KimKimpton
I feel that this book had more to offer than what I could get out of it. There were things I definitely did not grasp fully. Just when I thought I had a good handle on it, I was surprised by my lack of understanding. A definite reread.
LibraryThing member EBT1002
"Dr. Mather, if the Ghost Dance worked, there would be no exceptions. All you white people would disappear. All of you. If those dead Indians came back to life, they wouldn't crawl into a sweathouse with you. They wouldn't smoke the pipe with you. They wouldn't go to the movies and munch popcorn
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with you. They'd kill you. They'd gut you and eat your heart out."

This was a reread for me and it was nothing like I recalled. John Smith, born to a 14-year-old Indian girl and given up for adoption to a white upper-middle-class couple, grows up without any real knowledge of his tribal heritage. As apparent schizophrenia develops for John, its tentacles of delusion, hallucination, and paranoia intertwine themselves with his reasonably-evolving roots of rage and isolation. John moves to Seattle and begins working construction. He also seeks belonging and safety in a world that is simply incomprehensible to him. His rage is murderous and, as he works to find his way in this city, a rash of violence emerges: white men are being killed, apparently by an Indian who leaves a "calling card" indicating his Native American identity. The violence escalates; Native American homeless people are particularly targeted for horrific battering.

This novel, surely not Alexie's best, is peopled with angry Native American students, angry white guys, a sad white Wannabe novelist who claims expertise in all things Indian, and some very sympathetic people who are just trying to get along. Its violence is real and I know that, years after the novel's publication, Alexie himself questioned his own writing and the commanding, unflinching presence of the violence. And yet. Here, in 2017, as we watch the national dialogue deteriorate inexorably into deep incivility, and as we witness ascendent, apparently incurable racist divisions and the spread of violence as a "solution," Alexie's novel is timely and astute. He may retroactively feel sheepish about his rage. But this is exactly the rage we are seeing in our society today.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
Seattle is brought to the brink of a race war as a killer kidnaps and murders white men, scalping them and leaving behind owl feathers. As racial tension is stoked, we see events unfolding through the eyes of a number of characters, including but not limited to: John, a man of Native American
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descent but adopted into a Caucasian family and now suffering badly from mental illness; Marie, a Native American college student who is happy to have left the reservation but is still fighting for indigenous rights and causes; Jack, a Caucasian ex-cop who claims to have Native American roots and now writes mystery novels featuring a Native detective; and Truck, a Caucasian talkshow host who spews hatred and racism to get more listeners.

With this novel, I thought Alexie wrote a compelling book with interesting characters. The characters are believable; none are perfect and indeed there are very few clear-cut "good guys" and "bad guys." Seeing from many perspectives allowed that point to sink in ever further. You might despise a character for their violence in one chapter, but in another you have some sympathy for their grief. Understandably given the gist of the book, Alexie brings up a lot about race, including identity and stereotyping. There are no easy answers here either, and again, no one comes out looking good.

I very much enjoyed this book as a thought-provoking yet entertaining read. The prose is beautiful and accessible. The only reason I didn't rate it higher is because I wasn't a huge fan of how open-ended the conclusion was. After 400+ pages, I wanted a little more closure than I got. Still, it was an interesting enough book that I would recommend it.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
Sherman Alexi’s 1996 novel, Indian Killer, is a first rate serial killer novel that is almost certain to intrigue any fan of that crime fiction subgenre. But it is so much more than that.

First, the book’s title is, at first glance, a little misleading. From its title, most readers would assume
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that Sherman Alexi has written a book about someone who is choosing Native Americans as his crime spree victims (as in the sense that Custer was an “Indian killer”), but exactly the opposite is true here. Instead, this is a story about a Native American, an Indian-killer, who is terrifying Seattle by randomly murdering and scalping his white victims.

Second, author Sherman Alexi is himself a Native American who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. Alexi’s insight into what could motivate a main character such as this particular one to become the coldblooded killer he turns out to be makes the story all the more terrifying because it is all so logically crazy (if logical craziness is even possible).

Third, using primarily his secondary characters, Alexi shares a frank look with his readers about how many, if not most, Native Americans still feel today about what happened to their ancestors and the people responsible for the genocide they all too often suffered over the centuries. What Alexi’s characters have to say about all the Indian “wannabes” out there, those people who want so desperately to claim that they carry Indian blood for reasons of their own, is particularly damning. It is reminiscent, although it predates it by more than two decades, of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s embarrassing exposure as a shameless fraud who claimed to be a Native American entirely for her own personal gain.

So, there is already a lot packed into Indian Killer that readers will want to consider. And that’s even before the realization that an Indian is stalking white men sparks an all-out race war in Seattle. As the search for the killer goes on and on, tensions are high on both sides. Seattle’s Native Americans are nervous about leaving the reservation, and those who live in and around the city are mostly keeping their heads down. White hotheads, possibly as much to disguise their own nervousness and fear as much as anything else, are starting to mouth-off at any Indians they see on the streets. Seattle’s homeless Indian population is in particular danger from the nasty retaliation that occurs after each white victim is discovered.

Throw into the mix a novelist who badly wants people to believe his claim that he is an Indian; a bigoted radio talk show host who keeps his listeners on the verge of anti-Indian violence at all times; and a young Indian college student who leads campus protests about the bigotry she believes is directed at Indian students like her, and the city is sitting on a powder keg.

Bottom Line: Indian Killer is a memorable novel that only a Native American would have had the real credibility to write. There is almost as much in between the lines of this one as there is in the plot itself. It is a well written, fast-paced thriller with a message, a book that I recommend for all the reasons I’ve mentioned.
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Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 1998)




087113652X / 9780871136527
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