“The truth always finds a way out, and the longer it takes, the worse the consequences,” says Lola Wicks in "Disgraced," Missoula journalist Gwen Florio’s third mystery novel. It’s been six years since Wicks left the life of war correspondent to settle in Magpie, Montana. She and Sheriff Charlie Laurendeau have found their own version of domesticity centering on their daughter, Maggie, a precocious 5-year-old.
Working for the Daily Express, Lola covers the “usual diet of hamburger that comprises police briefs and weather reports” while longing for meatier stories. When she’s furloughed from the Express and takes off on an enforced vacation to Wyoming with Maggie, just such a story falls into her lap.
Palomino Jones, a member of a returning unit of U.S. Army soldiers, all from the tiny town of Thirty, Wyoming, is at the heart of the story. “Pal” is a cousin of Lola’s colleague, Jan, who had hoped to join the Welcome Home celebration but instead has to work since she’s the only reporter left at the Express.
The homecoming goes south almost the minute Lola and Maggie show up. One soldier commits suicide at the airport and the rest of the unit begins to self-destruct immediately thereafter. One comrade, a member of the Shoshone nation and childhood friend of Pal’s, has already died in country.
Lola’s war correspondence experience in Afghanistan tells her these are not coincidences, and since no reporter is ever truly on vacation, she is quickly drawn into investigating the deaths. Not only does Lola not enjoy vacation, she also doesn’t cook or sleep well, and her maternal instincts are questionable. It would be easy to feel sorry for Maggie if she and Lola weren’t so close, which makes it all the more surprising when Lola’s obsession with her story puts her daughter at risk.
Meanwhile, Charlie has proposed and the possibility of long-term commitment means Lola must consider letting go of her nomadic career for good. The choice is sufficiently unnerving that she is even tempted by the opportunity of one last fling.
A hallmark of the Lola Wicks series is Florio’s seamless weaving of Native American communities into the narrative. The culture of the Blackfeet in Montana and North Dakota, the Shoshone in Wyoming, both on and off the reservation, come poignantly alive in characters like Sheriff Charlie Laurendeau throughout the series, and Delbert St. Clair in "Disgraced.''
Lola casts a long look at the prejudicial treatment on the reservation as well as poor rural communities across the West that pay a high price for their “unquestioning patriotism.”
Florio writes with the urgency of one used to a deadline. Yet her prose is lyrical enough that one wishes she would occasionally linger over the narrative.
"Disgraced" is in bookstores and is available at Books & Books, 206 W. Park St., Butte.