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Indian Killer Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Indian Killer


While Seattle is troubled by the Indian Killer, a serial murderer who kills and scalps white people, several people struggle with ideas of "authentic" Indian-ness. One possible suspect is John Smith, a Native American who was adopted by white people as a baby. John doesn't know which tribe he is descended from, and feels alienated from both cultures. He is a construction worker on a skyscraper project, thinking this connects him with the Mohawk iron workers who helped construct the Empire State Building. John suffers from terrible dreams and violent hallucinations, often hearing drums and music when there is no source.
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Meanwhile, the killer stalks his prey, using Native American spells to stay invisible. He kills a white man and cuts off his scalp, drenching himself in blood. But he decides that more white people need to die, and sets off to kill again.

John meets a young Native American activist named Marie, who is leading a protest at the university. He is attracted to her, but struggles with his fractured understanding of his heritage, and his mental troubles. At work, he imagines himself killing the foreman on the skyscraper project by summoning the wind -- like a "real Indian" would be able to do -- to blow him off the scaffolding. John decides he needs to kill a white man to cure himself.

Marie chafes in her college anthropology class, which is taught by Mather, a white professor who believes he understands what Native Americans have gone through. As the killer continues his rampage, kidnapping a white boy, conservative talk radio host Truck Schultz flames hatred from white people who feel they are unfairly under attack. When the boy is set free, he is unable to tell the police who had kidnapped him, describing the Indian Killer in terms that make it seem more like a spirit than a human.

John focuses his attention on Jack Wilson, a writer of Indian-themed mystery novels who claims to be part Native American through a distant ancestor. Though he is, by all appearances, white, Wilson believes he understands and speaks for Indians through his writing. John attacks Wilson, slashing his face with a knife. He then hallucinates and flees, eventually falling to his death from the fortieth floor of the skyscraper he was working on.

The police declare that John was the Indian Killer and the case is now closed. In the final scene, Native American gods and spirits gather and dance, then disappear, implying that the spirit that animated the Indian Killer is gone, but only for now.
Best part of story, including ending: Indian Killer is emotionally exhausting, in a good way. It interrogates notions of white guilt, authentic Native American experience, open and latent racism, and the genocidal history of Canada and the United States.

Best scene in story: There are a variety of perspectives in the book on what a "real Indian" is, but Marie's professor, Mather, might be the most deliberately obtuse. She shuts him down in a class discussion when he says that Wilson's novels show the most "authentic" perspective on contemporary Indian life, but the professor and the rest of the class are so clueless that they don't seem to understand what she's talking about.

Opinion about the main character: John is the closest thing the novel has to a main character, and he's very sympathetic, given his struggles with his identity. His life growing up is painted in depressing shades, from dates with white girls that go nowhere to his general feelings of despondence and depression. That said, sympathizing with a character is not the same as liking them, and John is a bit of a blank in terms of personality.

The review of this Book prepared by Mason S. a Level 4 Yellow-Headed Blackbird scholar

Chapter Analysis of Indian Killer

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book descript. of violence and chases 10%Planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 20%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 40%How society works & physical descript. (people, objects, places) 30% Tone of story    -   depressing/sad How difficult to spot villain?    -   Difficult, but some clues given Time/era of story:    -   1980's-1999 What % of story relates directly to the mystery, not the subplot?    -   80% Misc. Murder Plotlets    -   Killer purposely leaves clues Kind of investigator    -   no powwow with Indian killers Kid or adult book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Any non-mystery subplot?    -   minority/women/gay rights Crime Thriller    -   Yes Murder Mystery (killer unknown)    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   accused criminal Age:    -   20's-30's

Setting

United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Pacific NW City?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   very gorey descriptions deaths/dead bodies Unusual forms of death    -   dropped from large heights Unusual form of death?    -   Yes Amount of dialog    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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Sherman Alexie Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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