In Indian Killer Alexie uses a pulp-fiction form, the serial killer mystery, to frame the social issues facing American Indians. He populates the book with stock characters such as a grizzled ex-cop, a left-wing professor, a right-wing talk radio personality, drunken bums, thuggish teenagers and a schizophrenic main character who serves as the most obvious suspect in a mystery that never quite resolves itself.
John Smith, the troubled Indian adopted by whites appears at first to be the main character, but in some respects he is what Alfred Hitchcock called a McGuffin. The story is built around him, but he is not truly the main character and he is not the heart of the story. His struggle, while pointing out one aspect of the American Indian experience, is not the central point. John Smith’s experiences as an Indian adopted by whites have left him too addled and sad, from the first moment to the last, to serve as the story’s true focus.
The damage that had been done to John Smith was irreparable from the moment the story began. His death, while a gloomy ending for his character, is in many ways a release from his torment, as demonstrated by his rising from the point of impact and leaving his body behind. The value of John Smith is to serve as an extreme example of the damage being done to Indian society.
The heart of the story is the experience of Marie Polatkin. Unlike the somewhat stock characters that make up much of the mystery element of the novel, Marie is a fully real...