Verdict: With SOLOMON BULL, author Clayton Lindemuth has created a new genre--Indian noir, applying the theme of mystery writers in which the haunted protagonist uncovers a much bigger crime while on a quest to solve another. Lindemuth imbues this tale with secrets and lies, and a past that will not go away.
During the Vietnam era, “New Hollywood,” composed of sixties’ leftists, portrayed Indians as stand-ins for the Vietnamese currently being “slaughtered” by American troops. Their inclusion in films like Little Big Man (1970) allowed film-makers to assert that murderous American racism was embedded in the country from the start. Whereas George Armstrong Custer was once considered heroic enough to be played by the swashbuckling Errol Flynn, in reality he was an insane racist, who leveled whole villages of Indian women and children—a 19th Century Colonel William Calley. When New Hollywood sought to make more than martyrs out of Indians, the result was a return to the “noble savage” theme, this time with late 60s’ overtones. In Billy Jack (1971), the Indian became a karate-kicking New Leftist, who used Green Beret tactics honed in Vietnam against racist police officers and city officials.
But there has been a right-wing variant on the Indian hero/martyr theme. In the person of the half-Indian John Rambo, the character was a martyr, who was mistreated by his government during the Vietnam War, and spat on by the anti-war movement. Nevertheless he “reclaimed” both his country’s honor and his “manhood” by taking out Communist aircraft with bow and arrows (explosive-tipped, that is).
Clayton Lindemuth has described himself in the past as a conservative. But one would not know it immediately in Solomon Bull (a heroic name if there ever was one—the “wisdom” of Solomon, the “force” of a bull). Lindemuth’s Blackfoot Indian character, both crude and uncouth, has daddy issues, and in detailing them Lindemuth condemns the U.S government’s behavior toward Indians in the 1970s. Bull wants to live up to his father who died fighting the U.S. government as a part of the American Indian Movement, a group that sought redress for government abuses against their 19th century ancestors.
Deprived of the avenues his father used to express both his manhood and his allegiance to his tribe, Bull opts to express his own machismo through participation in the “Desert Dog,” a literally life and death survivalist game. The lethal race is perfect for Bull’s needs, as it will test the character’s Indian skills (he must race through cactus, over water, scale rock-less walls, and avoid killer bees). But Bull will have another conflict that brings him full circle into his father’s era. Since the winner of the race is said to be recruited into a secret militia movement by the race’s designer, ex-mercenary Cal Barrett, Bull is asked by the government who killed his father to infiltrate the group.
Lindemuth, who was enlisted in the Army, portrays Bull with soldierly respect. Bull is never a coward or a martyr, but an alpha male eager to prove his mettle. Lindemuth’s refusal to apologize for machismo is bound to upset the politically correct crowd, as is his portrayal of a conservative Republican politician who wallows in corruption and has a racist past involving Indians.
With SOLOMON BULL, author Clayton Lindemuth has created a new genre–Indian noir, applying the theme of mystery writers in which the haunted protagonist uncovers a much bigger crime while on a quest to solve another. Lindemuth imbues this tale with secrets and lies, and a past that will not go away.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader