Book Review: Dream Stalker by Margaret Coel

I recently finished the book:

Coel, Margaret. 1997. The dream stalker. New York: Berkley Prime Crime

This is the third book to feature Jesuit priest John O’Malley and Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden. The first two books were not available in my local library system and I wanted to see if I’d like the author and characters before going to the trouble of interlibrary loan.

Dream Stalker is set on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. The story is plausible and the main characters are sympathetic. The villains are believable and most of them seem to be working for the good of others in their own minds. That makes the story sad at times.

I can’t personally speak to the accuracy of the  portrayal of  Arapaho  culture in this book, but I feel the portrayal of the priesthood is intellectually honest. Priests are men with the same feelings as the rest of us guys, but have an obligation to fulfill their vows before God. Some are better than others at keeping their vows and different priests are tempted in different ways.

Fr. O’Malley’s temptations and the good he does for his parishioners and total strangers are believable. His deep concern that a murder victim get a proper burial is straight out of the Corporeal Works of Mercy and the Book of Tobit.

Dream Stalker was an engaging book. This is more of a feat than it sounds because the plot revolves around the issue of nuclear waste dumps on Indian Land. It would have been easy to get overly preachy and dull, but Ms. Coel avoided that trap.

She needs work on her numerical literacy though. On page 191 of the book Fr. John and Vicky are discussing the chances of a nuclear disaster from the dump:

Fr. John: “What are the chances of that kind of disaster? One in ten million?”

Vicky: “Much less. One to the minus six, the geologists say.”

First, 1 to the anything is still one. “X to the Y” is an expression of a power exponent.  A positive exponent multiples X by Y times. A negative exponent is 1/x multiplied Y times. So, 10 to the 2 is 10×10= 100 and 10 to the minus 2 is 1/10*10=1/100. “One to the minus 6” would be 1/1*1*1*1*1*1. Which would be one. One raised to the power of anything is still one.

Let’s be charitable and say the author meant, “ten to the minus six.” That would be 1/10*10*10*10*10*10 or 1/1,000,000, or One in a million. That would be 10 times more likely than Fr. John’s guess of one in ten million.

But I don’t read mystery novels for their math. Overall I think it’s done well and I may well read more in this series.

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