Not Dead Enough is Warren C. Easley’s fourth novel featuring retired Los Angeles prosecutor turned rural lawyer Cal Claxton. Cal is a widower with a painful past and a daughter attending Berkeley. He lives alone in Dundee, a town south of Portland, Oregon, where he practices law and fly-fishing. His friend and fishing mentor Philip Lone Dear invites Cal to the 50th-anniversary commemoration of the flooding of Celilo Falls, a sacred Wasco Indian fishing ground lost to the rising waters of the Columbia River when the Dalles Dam was completed in 1957.
Philip’s invitation to the commemoration is more than it appears. He wants to introduce Cal to his cousin Winona Cloud, whose grandfather, Nelson Queah, disappeared the night Celilo Falls was flooded. Queah was an outspoken critic of the dam, and its impact on the landscape and the Wasco tribe. A perfunctory police investigation at the time determined that Queah, who was not known to drink excessively, fell drunkenly into the rising tide of the river and drowned. His body was never found. Now, 50 years later, Winona, who works for an activist group seeking the removal of several dams on the Columbia, wants Cal to investigate her grandfather’s death.
Not Dead Enough is an entertaining and smoothly written mystery with a charming and likable protagonist in Cal Claxton. It nicely interconnects Native American cultural struggles, politics—both national and local—greed, and murder. A bevy of suspects—an aging tough guy who is now living in a senior care center, the dam’s original concrete contractor, and the dam’s general contractor—makes things interesting. A sniper taking shots at nearly everyone Cal wants information from keeps it lively, and the conclusion hits with a believable twist.