Book Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

“… Jones has delivered a masterpiece that will appeal to both die-hard horror fans and fans of exceptional dramatic writing.”


The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones - coverTo list every book written by Stephen Graham Jones—or, indeed, every award win and nomination—would take far more space and time normally reserved for our book reviews, never mind the biographical section at the start. He has appeared on six different episodes of the This Is Horror podcast, has won four This Is Horror awards, and is widely regarded as one of the most knowledgeable and passionate writers working in genre fiction today. It is no secret that we at This Is Horror are huge fans of Jones and his work and, as such, have been eagerly anticipating the newest release ever since we devoured Mongrels in 2016.

The idea of cultural identity is central to the story of Ricky, Gabe, Lewis and Cass explored in The Only Good Indians. The title itself comes from the infamous and terrible quote by former US president Theodore Roosevelt, but Jones manages to reappropriate it in an effective way, hinting at the terrible fates that await the four friends while also exploring the seemingly endless racism faced by Native Americans. One of the main characters even tackles the use of “Indian” head-on, explaining that it is a generational thing, he and his friends always referring to themselves as such before our current age of cultural sensitivity. Nowadays it is (rightly, in our opinion) deemed appropriate for others to refer to the indigenous people of North America as Native American rather than Indian, as the former suggests a suitable level of respect, while the latter brings to mind outdated prejudices and terrible depictions in Hollywood “westerns”. Still, the casual racism the four main characters face—from nicknames like “chief”, to evil glares from the white men waiting to get into a bar while a Native American exits—shows that it is still an issue which needs to be rectified in this day and age.

The supernatural element of the story stems from an act of rebellion by the four best friends when they were barely out of their teens, while they all still lived on the reservation. During a hunting trip, they venture onto land reserved for the elders and come across a large group of elk. It seems to the four too good an opportunity to deny, and they entertain the notion of a hero’s welcome when they return with so much meat. But they realise they don’t have the equipment to take all of their spoils with them, meaning some will go to waste. They don’t realise it at the time, but this slaughter is the beginning of a terrifying chain of events that will come back to haunt them all. It affects them all in different ways, some experiencing a physical manifestation while others seem to be visited by apparitions or disembodied voices. But, whichever way it affects each man, it is immensely creepy.

This is one of Jones’s incredible strengths as a storyteller; no two stories are ever told exactly the same way. He is a master of technique and extremely talented when crafting his work. While he may be a naturally gifted storyteller, we’re sure it is equally true that Jones has worked very hard to develop these skills to be able to deliver such a compelling story. For example, without giving too much away, he employs a shrewd switch of point-of-view mid-sentence at the end of some of the chapters to wonderful and chilling effect. It is something not common in literature, in fact is something most writing instructors and English teachers warn against, because done incorrectly it can lead to confusion. But Jones manages to use it in the most effective, economical way, that it only adds to the dread and horror of the situation. This inclination by Jones can be found in much of his work. Where other writers see hard-and-fast rules as unassailable, he seems to view them as a challenge, leading to some inventive and—certainly in this case—remarkable results.

Two of Jones’s passions play a major part in the story; slasher fiction and basketball. This is certainly a slasher story, with a figure seeking revenge on a group, an almost unstoppable, relentless force that is driven to kill, no matter how long it takes. This is a book that is as bloody as it is dramatic. With different parts entitled “The House That Ran Red” and “Sweat Lodge Massacre” among others, you can see what we mean. There will be blood. It is a Stephen Graham Jones horror book; it’s almost guaranteed. The other passion, basketball, is as ingrained in the characters as it is in the author. Gabe has even passed it onto his daughter, Denorah, who is the star player for her High School team, harbouring dreams of one day being the first Native American woman to go pro. In the hands of another author, the inclusion of the sport, and as much of it as there is present here, may have detracted from the drama and horror unfolding. However, perhaps due to his inimitable storytelling style, so easy on the eye and as natural as having a conversation with a good friend, the basketball stuff only adds to the enjoyment of the story. It even plays a pivotal role in a scene towards the end, the writing as gripping as any fight scene or action anywhere else in the book.

While Jones has other work being released this year, this is the only novel-length book, of which we are aware. A Stephen Graham Jones novel has become something of an “event”, the intention possibly being to create some hype and excitement for the book’s publication. In a summer of high-profile releases, there has certainly been a great deal of anticipation for this book and, although the best idea may be to savour the book for as long as possible, once readers are introduced to the likeable main characters, they’ll find it difficult to restrain themselves. With a strong cast, incisive social commentary, a touching and—at times—heart-breaking analysis of the relationship between family and friends, and a terrifying vengeful entity, Jones has delivered a masterpiece that will appeal to both die-hard horror fans and fans of exceptional dramatic writing. His love for the genre and exceptional ability as a storyteller combine to produce uniquely wonderful work that always delivers on the excitement and anticipation, and long may it continue.


Publisher: Titan Books
eBook: 271 (pps.)
Release Date: 21 July 2020

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