Ghost Medicine by Aimée and David Thurlo is the seventeeth crime novel featuring Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah, who confronts the death of an old flame, rumored skinwalkers, and another clash between Modernists vs. Traditionalists (available November 12, 2013).
As a reader, it’s always nice to reconnect with strong, literary characters that you admire. Having read the newest in the series featuring Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah, it is just that: a reconnection.
In Ghost Medicine, our story finds Ella and her partner, Justine, who just happens to be her cousin, receiving a call to investigate a homicide involving a dead man found in a truck by a friend of Ella’s daughter. While she was out riding her horse, she made the gruesome discovery. When Ella and Justine approach the crime scene, two petty thieves are trying to steal the trucks battery. The two detectives give chase to the pair of hoodlums, catch them, cuff them, and send them off to jail. They are now free to approach the crime scene without any further distractions.
The victim was shot in the head, left side above the ear, and the tips of his fingers have been cut off. Being accustomed to Navajo customs and rituals, they immediately jump to the obvious conclusion: this is the work of a Navajo skinwalker. Upon closer inspection, Ella realizes the victim is none other than Harry Ute, former Navajo police officer. Harry is not just any fatality. He and Ella had history, and not just as fellow Navajo officer. They had dated a decade ago, and he had even asked Ella to marry him before leaving for the United States Marshal’s Service.
It soon becomes clear that Harry was doing some work for a local private investigator, looking into stolen San Juan County property, being sold on the Internet, possibly by a county employee.
The Navajo are, if nothing else, a family, and Ella’s brother and mother both eventually help Ella in her investigation. Her mother’s expertise as a Plant Watcher proves key to the investigation. As I mentioned when discussing the previous Ella Clah novel, Black Thunder, I enjoy learning new things about the Navajo culture and history.
“I’m acquainted with blackbrush. My shimasani used to call it useless brush,” Victoria said with a smile. “She’s a Plant Watcher, too.”
“Maybe she knows my mom,” Ella said.
Victoria shook her head. “Bi adin doo holo da—bi,” she said.
I’m sorry,” Ella said, understanding from her words that Victoria’s grandmother had passed away. There was no direct way in Navajo to say that a person had died. The word adin, which was used to describe death, meant the absence of everything. Translated, what Victoria had said was that her grandmother didn’t exist anymore.
“My shimasani sounds a lot like your mother. She knew the land and lived in harmony with it,” Victoria said, then walked away to join her team.
The thing with the Navajo, they are quite superstitious around death. Ella and her fellow Navajo police officers use double latex gloves when they investigate a crime scene. The outer gloves protects the crime scene, as it would for any policeman, but the second, inner gloves, protects the officer from the chindi, the dead person’s spirit. This is where her brother, Clifford, a hitaali or medicine man, often helps out when Traditionalists, who believe in the chindi, want protection.
I’ll not tell you any more details, because you’ll want to discover how the investigation unfolds by yourself. On a lighter note, I’m also somewhat of a foodie, and the Thurlo’s descriptions of the delectable offerings at Totah’s Café made my mouth water. I could almost taste the green chile burgers and the Navajo tacos that our characters enjoy during the course of the novel. Yum!
There are many changes on the horizon for Ella Clah and I look forward to the Thurlos' next book.
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Vanessa L. Parker is a jewelry artist and avid reader. You can see her work at Betoj Designs.