Contrary to the title, you always can tell that a Kathleen Eagle book is going to be an enjoyable, intelligent read. Her latest novel features the unseen but intriguing Kole Kills Crow from last year’s The Last Good Man. Kole gave up his infant daughter to that book’s heroine, Savannah, when he became a fugitive from the law. Savannah eventually married Kole’s half brother, Clay, and the new family now lives happily ever after on their Wyoming ranch.
Kole may be missing, but he’s not forgotten. Savannah’s best friend, Heather Reardon, has always been fascinated with him, ever since the two women shared a New York apartment and Savannah regaled her friend with stories of Kole’s dramatic protests for American Indian rights. Years ago, Kole was imprisoned for terrorist acts when he took over a general store that sold stamps, unaware that it was officially considered a Post Office and thus a federal offense. He was later suspected of killing a fellow inmate during a prison escape and then lost his wife in a suspicious house fire.
Since then he has disappeared, and law enforcement interest in him has waned. Heather, a successful journalist, is determined to track down Kole and write his story. But she hadn’t planned for the instant attraction both feel when she finds him in northern Minnesota, nor has she anticipated Kole’s reluctance to discuss that stage of his life. Because of Heather’s link to Savannah, she knows Kole’s daughter Claudia, now seven years old, and she tries to convince Kole that he owes his daughter a legacy - both written and personal. Kole considers stepping out of the shadows - but at what price?
You Never Can Tell could be alternately titled The Last Good Woman. Unlike Eagle’s last heroine, Savannah, an emotionally fragile woman who found love and healing with Clay, Heather is cheerfully strong and resilient. Kole aptly describes her as terrier-like - she’s small, energetic and talkative. She asks a million questions and is undeterred by Kole’s half-hearted attempts to make her go away and leave him alone. I really liked her, but I wish Eagle had given her a touch more vulnerability - it was hard to believe that she would be anything but fine if Kole marched off into the sunset without her.
Kole is a quintessential Eagle hero - conflicted but not cruel, and heroic despite his protests to the contrary. As a fugitive, he has made a living as a flute-maker, and his melodies are seductively beautiful. He also contributes pseudonymous articles to an Indian newspaper, proving that he is still a rebel at heart. His willingness to sacrifice comfort for his principles is in stark contrast to his erstwhile partner-in-protest, Barry Wilson, a former professor who has grown wealthy and complacent in Hollywood. When Kole reluctantly agrees to participate in an Indian march on Hollywood to protest the film portrayal of his people, he sets up an inevitable confrontation with his old friend.
Like the caravan that Kole eventually leads, You Never Can Tell meanders, with well-executed, engaging scenes but not much excitement until the final breath-stealing, page-turning climax. Kathleen Eagle relies more on dialogue than narrative throughout the novel, and it’s spicy dialogue indeed. Almost every exchange between Kole and Heather is laced with double entendres. Eagle is one of the best authors at demonstrating how playful sex can be, such as the first time the couple make love:
“Scared yet, my little rush-in fool?”
Sometimes, however, the bantering is so full of puns that it becomes ambiguous and requires careful reading. I didn’t mind, though. The book clocks in at a slim 300 pages so I wanted to read slowly and savor each word.
“Irish,” she gasped…
“Yeah, I know what you wish….I have never let a hostage go unsatisfied.”
“Not a hostage,” she insisted. “I’m, ah…volunteer.”
“Ahh, yessss, volunteer. My favorite hostage flavor.”
“They come with dessert.”
Like her hero, Eagle is a bit of a rabble-rouser. You Never Can Tell struck me as her most political book to date, with a strong indictment of the capitalistic greed that continues to threaten American Indians into the 21st century. In What The Heart Knows, Eagle introduced readers to the dubious benefits of Indian casinos. This time, she clues readers in to the practice of hazardous waste dumping on Indian lands - supposedly an economic benefit to Indians without posing a health and safety hazard (yeah, right.) She stops short of accusing the U.S. Government of stooping to scare tactics and murder, but she comes awfully close.
You Never Can Tell includes a lively love story, a heartwarming family reunion, and thought-provoking politics. What more do you need from a late-summer novel?