Indian Killer

ISBN: 009926823X
ISBN 13: 9780099268239
By: Sherman Alexie

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About this book

A gritty, smart thriller from a literary superstarA killer has Seattle on edge. The serial murderer has been dubbed “the Indian Killer” because he scalps his victims and adorns their bodies with owl feathers. As the city consumes itself in a nightmare frenzy of racial tension, 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? Alexie traces John Smith’s rage with scathing wit and masterly suspense.In the electrifying Indian Killer, a national bestseller and New York Times Notable Book, Sherman Alexie delivers both a scintillating thriller and a searing parable of race, identity, and violence.

Reader's Thoughts

Nathan Marone

As a literary distillation of righteous anger, Indian Killer is a total success. Some of Alexie's ideas are confused (and have been subsequently rejected by him if I understand him correctly) and near-sighted, and the book is probably a little too didactic to qualify as an exemplary work of genre fiction, but it really doesn't matter, because his writing is crisp and forthright with energy to burn. There's no subtext to Indian Killer. All of its rage and bitterness is right there on the surface. It should be read because it has the essence of truth even when it gets particulars wrong.


I usually steer clear of this genre of novel. A serial killer roams Seattle. Sympathetic characters die or are threatened. Loving parents suffer. The book is well plotted and there's an element of real mystery to the suspense--could reality be driven by a vengeful spirit born out of centuries of wrongs done to Native Americans? Alexie does a great job depicting how white folks believing themselves to be experts in North American Indians come across to Native Americans. Some characters--sandwich Marie, for example, were very compelling and I wanted more about them. But that was the novel--snippets of characters, snippets of plots, nothing fully developed except for fear and hate. Still, if you like this kind of theme, you'll love this novel.

Mark Stevens

There’s an admirable premise at work in “Indian Killer,” in which Sherman Alexie uses the plot of a serial killer on the loose to run through just about every attitude and thought about racism in the United States—in particular racism aimed at American Indians.Written in 1996, “Indian Killer” is hardly a taut murder mystery and it’s a bit loosely jointed, at least for my tastes, to be considered a literary classic. The story’s central character is John Smith, an Indian who was adopted at birth by white parents. Alexie lets readers brood throughout much of the book about whether Smith might or might not be the “Indian Killer” who is terrorizing Seattle. But then there is an angry female university student, Marie, and the angry radio talk show host and finally we get to know an ex-cop turned novelist, Jack Wilson. There are a host of other sub-characters along the way.The major theme is identity and the role that an individual’s upbringing forms your attitude and character. Breeds, hybrids, tribes, races, family, and so on. "Indian Killer” doesn’t bury or hide much—all the characters spell out their analysis of various racial attitudes in excruciating detail. There’s a lot of shouting and finger-pointing.The tension in the city is described in detail, but I never felt any true suspense. The ending is “unique,” too. I found it very unsatisfying. I’d recommend this only for readers who want to devour of all of Alexie’s work or read contemporary fiction about the American Indian experience.


This starts off w/ a melodramatic bang worthy of Michael Crichton &/or Dean Koontz.. It's a thriller.. but it's a thriller w/ something that Crichton & Koontz will never have: a subtext of sensitizing the reader to American 'Indians'.. & there's no simple resolution. There're plenty of characters, the most sympathetic for me being probably the activist Marie Polatkin, the one who articulates the most accurately (IMO). The complex issue of relations between 'Whites' & "Indians' in the 'United States' is dealt w/ in an appropriately multifaceted way.. maybe some of the characters seem a bit cartoonish but, hey!, if I'd written it they wd've been worse! In other words, Alexie clearly tries to deal a fair hand & does a great job of it. Alas, once again, the human condition is FUCKED.. & I have to agree w/ the majority of Alexie's presentation of it. I'll be reading more by him.


More required reading from Prof. Laura Furlan's American Indian Lit class at Umass-Amherst. Sherman Alexie's "angry" book...apparently created as a response to critics who said Alexie was an angry Indian writer, to which Alexie said, no, THIS is an angry Indian book. Prof. Furlan has a signed copy of it, in which Alexie calls it his least favorite book. If you get this, get an edition with the jacket photo of Alexie in sexy-mode with his long hair and penetrating stare. Funny, ironic, a great subversion of all the tropes of American Indian lit.

Adrian Stumpp

The mixture of politics and art is always a dicey subject for me. I tend to be against it, since nearly all art composed in the name of a political cause is terrible. A recent exception to this is Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer, though I feel it is not nearly as good as it would have been had political voice not been the driving motivation behind it. Indeed, Indian Killer is chilling, and for all of the reasons Alexie does not want it to be. Alexie takes the leitmotif of the murder mystery for his novel, though in truth it is only superficially a murder mystery; at its heart the novel is postmodern political zealoutry. However, in nearly every sense it approximates genius in my mind. Even the title, Indian Killer, is an ellusive play on words, for one wonders the entire length of the novel if it refers to a killer of Indians, or an Indian who is a killer. The plot follows in pseudo-potboiler fashion a chain of Native American murders in Seattle. The victims are scalped, skinned, and mutilated. Xenophobia ensues and our heroes, two Native American's, take up the gauntlet to prove that the murderer is not one of them, but is only creating an MO to lead authorities astray while at the same time creating a racist craze. The true target is mystery novelist Tony Hillerman, whom Alexie goes so far as to parody in his book. Hillerman is known for his Native American mystery's and, implies Alexie's work, actually works against the cause of those he claims to champion by distracting the public's attention from the true cause of the Native American's plight. Hillerman closes our attention in on a single bad guy who is finally caught and punished. Alexie shows us that the true evil is much larger: it is all of society. Alexie indicts not a single psychopath, but all of American society, in the murder of Indians. My biggest complaint is Alexie's prose themselves. They seeth with hatred on every page. His characters are developed and rounded only to the extent that they are abused and angry. Otherwise, they are cardboard cutouts. Likewise his style is easily digested, clipped, engaging, and quickly paced per the potboilers he so obnoxiously imitates. The style approaches passionate use of language only in the most politically rabid passages. Elsewhere, he seems unmoved by the loves and lives of his own characters. Only his hatred and indictment move him to a stirring use of the English language. This, frankly, disgusts me, and the unevenness of style and low regard for literary aesthetics was enough to send this reader into paroxysms of regrettable proportions. Alexie takes a good idea, marries it to a bad one, and hates the hell out of anyone who will read it.


Alexie does what he does best in this novel - he makes the reader think. This book is good but does contain some sentence fragments - some work, some don't. The first chapter is crazy, but after getting to know John, the first chapter makes sense because John is mentally ill and parts or all of it could be only in his head. Alexie writes John's mental illness well. I have a family member with mental illness and Alexie gets it right. I want to read the book again, so that I can keep a list of all the characters and try to figure out who the killer is. Alexie keeps the race of the killer ambiguous by calling it Indian Killer - is it an Indian who is a killer or a person who kills Indians?I think the killer is Bird or people like him who create violence and killers. Bird couldn't have been the actual killer because he was in the hospital fighting cancer, but he made Reggie what he was. I wondered if Reggie was the killer, but he didn't have control of his temper the way the killer did. I didn't think John was the killer because he couldn't kill. I wondered if it might be Father Duncan though, or maybe the killer wasn't any of the character that Alexie introduced us to, just as David's killers were not related to the Indian Killer. Perhaps the Indian Killer is any and all of us who hurt and damage people as Alexie often writes metaphorical. This book is not perfect, but it will make you think about a lot. It will put in the shoes of others. It will make you question your believes and attitudes - I like that in a book.

Jesse Lehrer

Another fantastic Sherman Alexie book - can he do no wrong? CAN HE? This was one of the most directly brutal books of his I have read. Due to the intense theme of racially motivated murder and violence Alexie successfully explores much of the hatred, prejudice, ignorance, anger, frustration, and more felt in America. He manages to explain and sympathize with the violent actions of his mentally ill protagonist but not justify them - something crucial to understanding race in America. The ending of the book perfectly explains the difference in prejudices: violence against white men comes from pain. That pain is an important part of understanding all systemic/societal/cultural forms of prejudice. Violence against Indians comes from hatred and ignorance. But both forms have much in common: frustration, anger, loss, etc. The characters are acting out in a framework of racism that has given them limited choices.Absolutely recommended, like all Alexie books. He continues to be one of my favorite authors.


I almost never read murder mysteries, but this one is written by Sherman Alexie,and I loved The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. There's very little endearing humor in this one, but I will give it a chance.This book is harsh and disturbing, but readable. John, the main character, is revealed to be mentally unstable. We are to assume that this is the result of being separated from his specific Native heritage -- he knows he was born to an Indian mother, but the adoption records are sealed, and even his adoptive parents are not allowed to have any further information. He doesn't know what tribe he's from, what region of the country. Separated from himself, his parents, his Native culture, and his white culture, he hears voices, sees visions, and thinks things will be better if he can see blue eyes looking back at him in fear.Now that I've finished it, I can see this is unique for a murder mystery; Alexie never solves the mystery. More than a few of the main characters could be the killer, but you definitely get the impression that they are not, that the murders may not even be related, other than in popular assumptions. Lots to think and talk about regarding, history, hysteria, scapegoating, and the failures of our justice system.

Artnoose Noose

This is the second Sherman Alexie book I have read. It's about a serial killer in Seattle whose victims are white males. It also follows several different characters, all of whom could be the serial killer. Meanwhile, racial tensions in Seattle mount and racially motivated violence spirals upward. Alexie's two main questions seem to be: 1. What makes someone a "real" Indian? and 2. What to do with all these white people? Some of the Native folks in his books know their ancestral languages and some don't. Some live on the rez and some in cities. Some drink alcohol and others Diet Pepsi. Within the interweaving threads of all of these subplots, the question is always being asked as to whether any of these lives could be considered any more "authentic" than the others.

Ms. Jared

I really, really liked this one. I don't even know how to describe it. It's a mystery, allegory, social many things in one.It's the story of John Smith, a Native American (Indian in this novel) taken from his young mother at birth and given to a white couple to raise, and the psychic and emotional harm that caused him. And it's the story of a killer (suspected Indian) who is killing white men in Seattle and the racial hatred and violence that incites against the local Indians and their mutual contempt. And it's the story of white men who create monsters and encourage racism and sexism with the ignorance and bullshit they spread with loud voices. But it's much more than that too, with many different characters, complex, simple, menacing, kind, heartbreaking, troubled, proud, angry, multi-faceted, and human.There's a lot to learn and ponder over and I think this is one that'll stick with me and that I'll be thinking over for a long time. It's very well written and although it seemed a bit slow going at first, after the first 70 pages or so it really kicked in and I was fully engaged. Well worth the time spent reading it.


The usual greatness from this author. The novel reads like a mystery and he gives you enough characters to make you wonder who Really did it. ... and then the story ends and it is done so masterfully that you're still sitting there wondering who did it. As is normal for this author, this is a social commentary on the state of Native American affairs in current culture. How whites want to be Indian, and how whites teach other whites what it is to be Indian. If you've read his other books before reading this one, you discover just how off-base the American concept of Indian really is. I probably like this author's work so much because I'm a sociologist, and I find it interesting. But there is more than that. The author really does write very well. His novels are fast reads because they flow so well and he keeps you interested. Even his token background characters have you interested in them...and it doesn't steal from the rest of the story. I recommend this book. But not as the first book you read by this author. Start with one of his others to get a feel for his tone and the "outrageous" story-telling that he uses. (The story telling is a lot like what you would expect from oral traditions - exaggerated). But do get around to this book.

Alshia Delores Moyez

I'm a long-time fan of Sherman Alexie's. I really loved this book and I think you will, too.


Maybe it is partly because this was the first novel I read in six months, but I basically devoured this book and really enjoyed it all the way through. Great pace, great characters, good suspense, funny in parts. I really appreciated that Alexie made almost everyone at least a little sympathetic - even the characters that I really expected to dislike. Even the terrible people usually had a least one moment of humanity, so the reader could glimpse something good in them.Also, I love books that zigzag between characters this fast, with chapters only four or five pages long sometimes, because I end up unable to put them down. I keep just one more chapter-ing myself right on through to the end of the book. I want to tackle some of Alexie's short stories now. I've only ever read one or two, I think.

Walk-Minh Allen

This novel is a ghost story, a murder mystery, a psychological thriller, and a historical narrative reflecting the slow erosion of the native peoples of North America. It was uncomfortable to read, yet comforting to know that I’m not alone in my observations and my interpretations of the facts behind the systematic destruction, abuse, and dissolution of the first people over the past three to four centuries. And, to focus the issues and themes of cultural domination and destruction through the prism of interracial/transracial adoption speaks deeply to me, as a transracial adoptee myself.I was pleased with Sherman Alexie’s prose and storytelling acumen. The characters had a life and an independence all their own, and most importantly (for me at least), their personalities, language and motivations appeared to be realistic and believable. This is the reason why the story captivated me and kept me turning the pages to find out what happens next.Now, I understand that the main character, John Smith, and his role as the adoptee in this story can be quite problematic and troublesome to us adoptees because of his severely conflicted and broken nature. Much of society, judging from how the media treats us adoptees and describes us, chooses to paint us as unwanted dolls in need of saving and when eventually saved, unable to fully integrate into our adoptive families because of our early separation from the first parental unit. I could see how a novel like the Indian Killer could simply reinforce these stereotypical assumptions about those who are adopted, especially transracially, in a naive audience.With that said, I found the John Smith character scarily relatable based around the circumstances of my own adoption, my own upbringing, and my own life experiences. Many times during the story I felt like I had entered John Smith’s head or he in mine. I related to his learned and brooding silence, the acts of prejudice and discrimination that reinforced such inner and outer silence in him, and his vivid and searching daydreams that offered an alternative to an even more depressing and violent reality.Indian Killer can act like a vision, an affirmation, a warning, or a revelation, depending on who you are, where you’ve been and the times you’re living in. While reading this book, the actual murders were not of real importance to me, but rather the subconscious and explicit forces that motivated the killer to commit them in the first place.

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