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The Witch's Tongue (Charlie Moon Series #9)

The Witch's Tongue (Charlie Moon Series #9)

5.0 7
by James D. Doss

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In James D. Doss’s latest complex and absorbing crime novel set on the Ute reservation in Southern Colorado, Charlie Moon’s cleverness and his aunt Daisy Perika’s intuition—not to mention the spellbinding story behind this unusual day—share the limelight with the vibrant details of Native life and custom.


In James D. Doss’s latest complex and absorbing crime novel set on the Ute reservation in Southern Colorado, Charlie Moon’s cleverness and his aunt Daisy Perika’s intuition—not to mention the spellbinding story behind this unusual day—share the limelight with the vibrant details of Native life and custom.

Strange things are happening near Granite Creek, Colorado, all in the space of less than twenty-four hours. A Ute shaman dreams of being buried alive and hears the hooting of an owl, signaling impending death. A man walks into Spirit Canyon and disappears, leaving his battered wife both relieved and devastated. A private museum is burgled. An Apache is arrested for assaulting a police officer. And a sniper takes a shot through an antique store window, wounding the proprietor.

Part-time Ute tribal investigator Charlie Moon would rather be tending to his duties on the Columbine Ranch than playing detective with this puzzling collection of seemingly unrelated events. But when the local police and the FBI—including the beguiling Special Agent Lila McTeague—can’t seem to put it all together, Charlie must connect the dots before anyone else dies.

“With all the skill and timing of a master magician, Doss unfolds a meticulous plot laced with a delicious sense of humor…[an] amusing gem.”Publishers Weekly

“Doss has reproduced the land of the Southern Colorado Utes with vivid affection.”--Dallas Morning News

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A classy bit of storytelling that combines myth, dreams, and plot complications so wily they'll rattle your synapses and tweak your sense of humor. For a good time, read Doss.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Doss's ear for Western voices is remarkable.” —Rocky Mountain News

The Barnes & Noble Review
Murder, mayhem, and Native American mysticism abound in the ninth installment of James D. Doss's Charlie Moon mystery saga, which is set on and around a Ute reservation in southern Colorado.

In The Witch's Tongue, the fun-loving rancher and part-time tribal investigator Moon gets roped into solving a series of bizarre, seemingly unrelated events -- a private museum robbery, a wife-beating Ute who disappeared during a vision quest, and a crazed Apache who viciously attacked a police officer during a routine traffic check. When an antiques dealer gets shot by a would-be assassin, no one -- not even the FBI -- can piece together the strange occurrences. But the intuitive Charlie Moon, with the help of his trickster/shaman aunt, Daisy Perika, and his hound dog, Sidewinder, begins to piece together an elaborate scam. To complicate matters, Moon, who has just been dumped by his almost-fiancée Miss James, meets FBI Special Agent Lila McTeague, a stunningly beautiful woman with enough in-your-face attitude to put Moon in his place. She could be the seven-foot-tall tribal investigator's soul mate -- or his worst nightmare…

The obvious comparisons to Tony Hillerman aside, Doss's Charlie Moon saga (Dead Soul, White Shell Woman, Grandmother Spider, et al.) is noteworthy not only for its unique, highly entertaining story lines but also for Doss's razor-sharp wit. With incurably sarcastic characters like Moon and his aunt Daisy, the clever one-liners throughout make these novels an absolute delight to read. Paul Goat Allen

Publishers Weekly
HWith all the skill and timing of a master magician, Doss unfolds a meticulous plot laced with a delicious sense of humor and set against a vivid southern Colorado setting in his ninth novel (after 2003's Dead Soul) to feature Ute tribal investigator Charlie Moon. A shrewd gambler with an eye for a pretty lady, Charlie is also a successful rancher and an astute businessman, which is bad news for bad guys and competitors. A series of seemingly unrelated episodes a crude museum robbery, a fleeing Apache who attacks a police officer, a Ute who abandons his abused wife and disappears into mysterious Spirit Canyon forms an intricate puzzle that confounds both the tribal police and the FBI. As usual, Charlie's feisty aunt, Daisy Perika, a shaman who melds native beliefs and Catholicism into an idiosyncratic blend, plays an important role. Longtime fans will welcome other familiar supporting cast members, as well as a new romantic interest in the person of an attractive FBI agent. One might quibble that the characters and dialogue occasionally exhibit a wit and polish more appropriate to musical comedy than ordinary discourse ("You are an uncommonly sly fellow, Mr. Moon do you think you can get the copper's name out of me?"), but the sheer entertainment this amusing gem generates is more than enough to compensate for any artificiality. Agent, Richard Henshaw. (Sept. 22) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Ute tribal investigator Charlie Moon looks into a series of events that begins with a museum break-in and winds up with the murder of a police officer. Another successful blend of Native American mysticism and Anglo police work. Doss lives in New Mexico. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Charlie Moon (Dead Soul, 2003, etc.), the droll Ute tribal investigator turned rancher, journeys to the bottom of Spirit Canyon and finds . . . nothing. What happened to Jacob Gourd Rattle, last seen pummeling his wife and digging an ominously shaped hole? The day he vanished, bossy old Jane Cassidy's personal museum of treasures, curated by her nephew Bertie, was robbed of coins and cameos supposedly worth millions. Snobbish antiques dealer Ralph Briggs, a regular at Charlie Moon's poker table, barely has time to tell Charlie about a shady deal someone has just offered him when he's shot in the chest, so scaring the witness Miss James, Charlie's main squeeze, that she hightails it to Baltimore. Meanwhile, at a roadblock for museum thieves, apache Felix Navarone winds up in a tree where he tussles with Officer Jim Wolfe. Felix's only visitor in stir is Eddie Ganado, the luckless Navajo now working as a legal assistant, who quickly comes to a dead end. So does poor Officer Wolfe, who passed his last days by stealing "corpse powder" from Charlie's shaman auntie. When the FBI is called in, toothsome Special Agent McTeague attracts the admiration and lust of Charlie, rousing him to Poirot-like insights and Spenser-like wisecracks. A classy bit of storytelling that combines myth, dreams, and plot complications so wily they'll rattle your synapses and tweak your sense of humor. For a good time, read Doss. Agent: Rich Henshaw/Richard Henshaw Group

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Charlie Moon Series , #9
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.05(w) x 6.71(h) x 1.18(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Witch's Tongue

By James D. Doss

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2004 James D. Doss
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0379-0



To the typical observer, the trio of mute ones do not resemble human beings. Not in the least.

This being the case, it could hardly be expected that they would look anything at all like three Pueblo women who had been petrified (depending on the version of the legend) by either a feat of malicious sorcery or an act of supernatural mercy. To the uninformed eye, the massive monoliths appear to be merely three huge humps of weathered sandstone that were squatting atop the mesa aeons before saber-toothed tigers and majestic mammoths roamed the foothills of those mountains that would eventually be christened "San Juan" by the Spanish invaders. According to the tale the Ute shaman told — and Daisy Perika would not tolerate the least hint of skepticism — after fleeing to the top of the mesa to escape an Apache raiding party, the trio of Pueblo women had prayed for deliverance from their ruthless pursuers. Their bodies had been turned to stone, their spirits set free to enter Upper World. Daisy also asserted that the sandstone women were not quite nine hundred years old and that before the remarkable event, the top of the canyon had been as flat as a billiard table. Local geologists dared not contend the point with the hard-eyed woman.

Whatever the ages of the sandstone towers, the deep canyons that snaked and twisted and turned and twined along the edges of Three Sisters Mesa were ancient beyond imagining. And being so very old, there were some rather odd things that lingered between their walls. According to Daisy, some were wispy remnants of material bodies. There were others (so she said) that had never occupied a house of flesh. The shaman knew this to be true; she had encountered a score or more of them and often chatted with those who were lonely. Daisy's knowledge was not limited to the spirits. Because she prepared medicines, the tribal elder knew every plant that grew in this wilderness. She begged their pardon for harvesting flowers, berries, leaves, stems, and roots. She was acquainted with all the animals, too, and greeted each of them by name. Some returned the compliment. But there were a few odd features in these shadowy depths that even Daisy Perika knew little about.

For example, consider that canyon stretched out closest to the sunset.

The shaman did not know that ages and ages ago, halfway up the cliffs, a thick basaltic layer had bridged the chasm. Though having little utility except for the occasional lizard or mouse or fuzzy caterpillar who wished to cross over the shady depths, it was nevertheless a wondrous thing to behold. Or would have been, had human beings arrived in time to see it. Alas, the marvelous formation collapsed a hundred millennia before the most recent ice age. In the bottom of the canyon, portions of the fallen bridge have cracked and weathered and washed away in seasonal floods. Even so, some evidence remains. A few black basalt slabs are still half buried in the sandy floor, and there are lofty remnants of the ancient span. Opposed on the sheer cliffs are a pair of dark projections. Well above the Three Sisters side of the canyon, a black basaltic shelf juts out prominently from crumbling sandstone. On the wall across the way, a smaller sibling mimics its mate.

In the early autumn of 1883, a Scottish prospector on the way to Fort Garland happened by, riding a fat black ginny mule, leading a gray donkey. This European was cursed with a touch of superstition, blessed with a wry sense of humor. While sipping black tea by his campfire, the traveler named the larger protrusion the Witch's Tongue, and made note of this small bit of vanity in his diary. Across the canyon, the smaller shelf cried out for similar recognition. And so the pliant pilgrim from Portnacroish dubbed it the Witch's Thumb, and penned this also on the yellowed page.

The seeker after gold was murdered six months later in Los Ojos by a swarthy prostitute who appropriated the Scotsman's poke, his Winchester carbine with the silver-inlaid maple stock — even his little writing book. Because she could not read, the sporting woman traded the dead man's diary to a U.S. Army cartographer for three Havana Provincial cigars. Sadly, the unfortunate prospector's name has been forgotten.

The Witch's Tongue and Thumb have not.

It may have been due to a few unfortunate references to brujos, or recurring tales of hunters and trappers who had fallen into that twilight crack in the earth, never to surface again — or it may have been a more subtle hint of evil sensed by tribal elders. But the canyon was always known to the Utes as a bad place. So bad that in the midtwentieth century the Tribal Council had (in its collective wisdom) officially pronounced the six-mile-long crevasse off-limits except to members of the tribe. But there were, as there must always be, exceptions to the rule.

From time to time, a privileged few were granted special passes. These hardy souls were typically archaeologists, anthropologists, biologists, or geologists — and always matukach. The reckless white-skins did not believe in the People's legends, and so had some measure of protection from those unspeakable things that haunted the canyon.

The more sensible folk among the Southern Utes would not have thought of visiting this forbidden place; even the braggarts and scoffers and show-offs generally came up with an acceptable reason to avoid its dark recesses. And so it was that human beings — particularly tribal members — were not to be found in this particular canyon.

Except for the exceptions.


BETWEEN THE canyon walls, beneath the cloud-shrouded slit of sky, the lonely soul attended to his solemn business. He was confident that in this forbidden place, his enterprise would be safe from prying eyes.

Vain are the thoughts of men.

Jacob Gourd Rattle was already being watched.

OPPOSITE THE Witch's black Tongue, perched on the Witch's black Thumb — reclines the cougar. Her unblinking yellow eyes are focused on the man on the canyon floor. She does not wonder about what the peculiar biped is doing down there — such complex thoughts are not in her nature. The hungry feline licks her lips. Imagines how his warm flesh will taste.

THE BUSY man was unaware of the mountain lion's pitiless stare — or even the fact that she was there. As Jacob Gourd Rattle removed earth and stones from the hole in the ground, he concentrated on the happy thought that the troublesome woman was not with him.

Kicks Dogs would return, of course. She always did.

But, Jacob hoped — not until the appointed time.

Not until his work here was done.

* * *

CHARLIE MOON would have been quite interested in Jacob Gourd Rattle's clandestine activities, but the tribal investigator was a long drive to the north of the Southern Ute reservation. And like the man digging the grave in the canyon, Daisy Perika's nephew was also engaged in important business.



The three serious men were in the antiquarian's storage room, seated around an unusual table.

Charlie Moon — intent on the delightful task of fleecing his friends of their currency — hardly noticed the furniture.

Scott Parris had already described the card table as "kinda sissy for a man's game of gut-bucket poker."

The mildly miffed owner — who made his quite comfortable living buying and selling fine antiques — informed his gaming companions that they had the distinct honor to rest their elbows on a genuine George II demi-lune mahogany card and tea table with a two-fold top, baize-lined surface with wells. Not to mention club legs and pad feet — thank you very much.

Ralph Briggs's semibrutish guests had not been impressed.

On the mantelpiece, a Victorian brass lantern clock twirled its delicate hands in the slowest of motions to measure the flow of that indefinable river called Time. When it chimed once to announce the eleventh hour, it so happened that Scott Parris was the dealer. The broad-shouldered, sandy-haired, blue-eyed chief of Granite Creek PD was also the heavy loser.

Charlie Moon was down by eight blue chips, but not defeated. The Indian was lying low, waiting for his chance to ambush this mismatched pair of matukach.

Ralph Briggs, banker of the game, was nearly twelve hundred dollars up. Hoping to get away while the getting was good, he faked a yawn. "Last hand?"

Scott Parris took a sip of black coffee from a china cup that was almost as translucent as the antiquarian's ploy. "Okay," he said. "But how about we switch to Leadville stakes and White Mule rules."

The Ute nodded his assent.

Ralph Briggs considered protesting, saw the flinty look on the white policeman's face, thought better of it. "Very well."

Parris rubbed his hands together. "Then let's play poker, gents."

Each of the gamblers anted in a white chip.

The chief of police shuffled, offered the cards to the player on his right.

Charlie Moon cut the deck, passed it back to the dealer.

Scott Parris dealt five rectangles to each of the players, pulled his own hand close to his chin. Garbage. He looked to the antiquarian. "Okay, Ralph — how many do you need?"

The smallish man pursed his lips. "Two will do."

The dealer dealt the pair.

Ralph Briggs looked at his new hand. Well, now. Look at that.

Parris eyed his best friend. "Charlie?"

Moon wore a mask that grinned. "I am happy with what I'm holding."

Parris snorted at the Ute. "Dealer takes three," he said, and did. More garbage! He squinted over his pitiful cards at the antique dealer.

Ralph Briggs raised a thin eyebrow at the crafty Indian, eyed his Hearty flush. I shall demolish Mr. Moon. On the pretense of miserly caution, he started to push four white chips to the center of the table, hesitated — withdrew half of the pale quartet.

The Ute sniffed the air and smelled the musky odor of deceit. "I'll see that pitiful wager." He offered up two whites. "And raise — this much." The tribal investigator baited the pot with four red chips.

Parris folded. "I hate this game. I hate it more than dentist drills and cod liver oil and income taxes."

As if some dark magic might have transformed the cards since his last furtive glance, Briggs examined what he was holding with exaggerated care. Moon is bluffing. "I shall see you," he offered a quartet of matching reds, "and raise you — thusly." The antiquarian sent two blue chips to join their lesser friends.

The Ute called and raised again. Six blue chips.

The dapper little man in the tweed suit did the same. Six and six more.

"You are a bulldog, Ralph." Charlie Moon pondered his next move. "But I am feeling reckless. So I'll see that and raise you ... hmm ... how much? Oh what the hey, a greenback dollar means nothin' to a fella like me. I will risk all I've got." He pushed a multicolored pile of chips to gorge the pot.

The folded chief of police stared goggle-eyed at the players.

As a matter of civilized principle, Ralph Briggs firmly refused to sweat. In lieu of this means by which common men cool their skin, his high forehead beaded with tasteful pearls of unscented perspiration. The Indian is bluffing. I know it! He opened his mouth to call, but his churning stomach had the last five words. But if he is not ... His fingers refused to touch the last of his chips. The antiquarian choked. And folded.

The Ute placed his cards facedown, raked in the red-white-and-blue pot, offered his surly adversaries the consolation of a melancholy sigh. "You fellas are the lucky ones. After you've hit the hay tonight, you'll only think about how bad you played for maybe an hour or two or three. But before the sun comes up, you'll finally get worn out from all your moaning and groaning, and drift off to a troubled sleep. But me — I'll be up all night long." He flashed a toothy smile. "Counting my winnings."

Scott Parris shook his head, glanced at the other beaten man. "Ralph, don't you just hate it when he does that?"

Ralph Briggs glared at Charlie Moon. Yes. Indeed I do.

While the winner was donning his fleece-lined denim jacket and black John B. Stetson hat, Briggs counted and recounted the meager remnant of his chips. He mumbled, "I just know Charlie was holding trash — I should have called."

Parris leaned close to Briggs and whispered, "That Ute never bluffs."

Ralph Briggs desperately wanted a reason to feel better. "Never?"

The town cop shook his head. "Never. If you'd have called, he would've cleaned you out."

After the chief of police had departed for hearth and home, the antique dealer followed the Indian into the display room of his expensive, exclusive shop. I should not ask, but — "Charles, just between friends, and just this once — I wonder if I could impose upon you to tell me what —"

The seven-foot Ute stopped in midstride, looked down at the smaller man. Charlie Moon shook his head in a gesture that suggested a mix of sadness and disappointment. "Ralph, it is one of Nature's fundamental laws — if a player wants to see the hand a man is holding, he has to lay his money down. But you did not call my bet."

"You are absolutely right, of course." Briggs looked away and had the grace to blush. "I do not know what came over me. It must be the lateness of the hour."

"Don't worry about it." Moon clapped him on the back. "Because you and me are buddies — I have already forgot you asked."

"I am eternally grateful — and you are very gracious."

Moon took a look around. "I might want to make a purchase from your store."

The vulgar reference to a store made the pale man wince. "Do you have something particular in mind?"

"I will know it when I see it. Or maybe the other way around."

The businessman made a halfhearted gesture. "Feel free to browse." With a greedy glint in his eye, Ralph Briggs watched Charlie Moon examine this and that. He wondered about a number of things. For instance — on top of his winnings, how much more hard cash did the full-time rancher, part-time tribal cop have in his hip pocket? And how much would he be willing to part with?

As it came to pass, the Ute was separated from the white man by a rift of cultures and a finely crafted walnut display case. The latter barrier was glazed with brittle Venetian glass that cast the contents in a pale bluish hue. On the top shelf, a remarkable assortment of collectibles was laid out on a plush carpet of purple felt.

An 1857 French Army dental kit, neatly packaged in a small wooden box that presented a silvered mirror on the open lid.

An ivory crescent of walrus tusk, delicately engraved with the ghostly form of a four-masted Boston whaling vessel, sails still billowed by phantom winds.

Representing the Yankee invasion of the Confederate States of America, a corroded assortment of powdery-white lead bullets, silver medals, brass buttons, bronze belt buckles.

A diamond-studded bracelet and magnificent emerald ring worn by the lovely young heiress of the Flint Hill and Nacogdoches Oil Company on the very night she drove her black 1949 Packard convertible into Attoyac Bayou.

The centerpiece of the display was a .45-caliber Colt Peacemaker with ivory grips. According to the information card, the single-action revolver had been presented to Chief Ouray by his first wife, Black Mare.

The proprietor of The Compleate Antiquarian observed his potential customer with intense professional curiosity. Though the Ute had a glance for each of the fascinating objects, Moon's gaze was invariably pulled back to that special item. Of course. Now Ralph Briggs thought he understood what the Indian was doing here. The proprietor allowed himself a knowing smile. "See anything you fancy?"

Charlie Moon pointed at the item that had caught his eye. "How much do you want for that?"

The owner of the establishment unlocked the case. "The Colt Peacemaker?"

The Ute shook his head, tapped his finger on the glass.

"Oh, that." He arched an eyebrow at Moon. "What on earth would a hardcase cow-piekicking cowboy like you want with —"

"How much?"

After a perfectly timed dramatic pause, Briggs told him how much.

Charlie Moon swallowed hard.


Excerpted from The Witch's Tongue by James D. Doss. Copyright © 2004 James D. Doss. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

James D. Doss is the author of the Charlie Moon mysteries, including A Dead Man's Tale and The Widow's Revenge. Two of the Moon books were named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly.

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Witch's Tongue (Charlie Moon Series #9) 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
All heck has broken loose on the Ute Reservation in the Granite Creek, Colorado area. After physically abusing his wife, Jacob Rattle vanishes in Spirit Canyon (to the joyful relief of his spouse). At about the same time, someone steals coins and cameos that museum owner Jane Cassidy claims is worth millions. Antiques dealer Ralph Briggs tells Ute tribal investigator Charlie Moon about a shady deal when he is shot. At a roadblock to catch the museum thieves, Felix Navarone is ¿treed¿ by Officer Jim Wolfe landing in jail.............................. Legal Aide trainee Eddie Ganado visits Felix; who not long afterward is released. . Charlie ignores the mess to work on his ranch but his aunt pressures him to become involved as Jim stole corpse powder from her. Charlie really changes his mind when he meets FBI Special Agent Lia McTeague in charge of the investigation. He is attracted to her and like any male needs to show off his prowess by trying to uncover who is killing people and why......................... Combining humor with Native American mythos, James D. Doss proves he is a shaman when it comes to providing a terrific mystery. The story line is fueled on two levels with the obvious homicides and other havoc on the one hand and the Charlie-Lia on the other hand. Both ties nicely together as it is the attraction to Lia that coaxes Charlie to need to solve the case. Fans of Charlie (this being his eighth appearance) already know why Mr. Doss¿ Moon novels are always amongst the genre¿s best, but newcomers will see first hand the proof of that assertion............................... Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoy reading Doss and wish we had more writers with his style of writing very descriptive, humorous, imaginary and mysterious.
GramDee More than 1 year ago
I'm still reading this one- but I sure plan to read ALL of James D. Doss's "Charlie Moon" series. Love all the repeating characters; especially his Aunt Daisy. Following in likes of Tony Hillerman, Doss keeps the reader sidetracked and looking around at the scenery, taking in the weather and watching the cloud formations. The stories are rooted in Native American cultures, mixed up with the wild, but modern western civilization.
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LenCW More than 1 year ago
Great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago