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


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.

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.

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.

Isla McKetta

I flat out loved this book. If you want to know more about how it challenged the way I relate to race, check out my blog.

Celeste Fairchild

I've heard Alexi disavow this book publicly, so I don't feel bad giving it a negative review despite adoring the author. It's an angry book, and in an unhelpful way -- it doesn't have sympathy for some of its own characters.There's also the fact that it's a mystery without a solution. I'm all for genre-bending, but this was one of the least satisfying endings I've ever read. It seems like an immature book, something he wrote before he'd worked out a lot of what makes him a great author. Read his other stuff before you read this one. It's fun (or at least it starts out that way), but it's a whiff.


I felt marginalized and insulted by this book at times. I think it's why I hold it in such high regard. It's a hard book, it raises questions. It's honest, brutal and unafraid. Of course that's not enough to make a book good. The characters are vivid and Alexie succeeds at the task of storytelling.I read this probably fifteen years ago. I still remember the way it made me feel all these years later.


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.


Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer eschews the straight-up spectacle of a racially motivated serial killer mystery (with its potential for red herrings and dramatic climaxes) and instead savors the subtlety of innumerable racially conflicted characters who seem equally capable of murder--and leaves the whodunnit unanswered.I have an undeniable fondness for Alexie (I'm already planning how to teach his The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian at the beginning of the next school year). One of the things I appreciate about his work is the raw but uncertain emotionality that comes with reflecting on race and identity. Throughout Indian Killer, there's a mixture of zeal and shame that pushes Native American characters to demonstrate their culture and yet assimilate to white society. Meanwhile a hodgepodge of lust and defensiveness leads many white characters to couple their interest in the other races around them with an attempt to maintain the privilege offered by whiteness. Alexie's world is not black and white (or red and white), but a complex amalgam of shades and senses that seems just right in our "Melting Pot" society.I can certainly see how Indian Killer might cause discomfort in readers, the more the violence and animosity between cultures escalates, the easier it becomes for readers to say: "well, that's not me," or "can't we all just get along". But when Alexie refuses to provide the spectacle of racists receiving the comeuppance, or of children of every creed joining hands to sing, the subtle truth shines through: race matters, and as long as it does, excuses, scape goats and utopias will simply distract from actual reflection on and analysis of race.

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.

Steven Salaita

This is Alexie's least critically successful novel, but I think it's underrated. Like much of his work, the social and political themes tend to be heavy-handed, but in Indian Killer they're heavy-handed with some great uses of humor. Professor Clarence is such a ridiculous imbecile of a character that you know he could only be based on a distinct real-life type.

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.

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.


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.


This was my introduction to Sherman Alexie, and I still think it is his best work that I've read to date. The title itself made me question my thought processes, as I immediately envisioned a book replaying and displaying the historical themes of colonization and genocide against Native Americans in a modernized plot. This is, of course, what Alexie is doing, but the story centers around a couple of local murders attributed to an "Indian Killer" -- an Indian who kills, not someone who kills Indians. The cultural echoing that dominates the book is not for those who have not yet confronted white guilt (they will just feel pissed off) or for those who listen to a lot of talk radio personalities (Rush Limbaugh is skewered pretty perfectly in one of the characters). Alexie really has no patience for this aspect of america, but the inventive way in which he portrays the aftershocks of colonization are poignant and so, so effective.I also really love the way this man writes. It's fluid and imaginative, and his dialogue is brilliant. The stark social divides that are outlined in the book would probably feel preachy if they were handled by someone with less talent. As it is, I think anyone with sensitivity will come out of this novel gasping rather than complaining about being taught a lesson.

Alshia Delores Moyez

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

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