A Time of Change by Aimee and David Thurlo is a stand-alone romantic suspense novel (available April 9, 2013).
I am a long time fan of the Aimee and David Thurlo Ella Clah mysteries. A Time of Change is a stand-alone, but like the Ella Clah novels, it is set in Navajo country in New Mexico.
When Tom Stuart, the owner of a trading post, is found dead, the gun in his right hand and the shot to his right temple suggest suicide. Stuart’s son Ben, and Jo Buck, one of the trading post’s employees, refuse to believe Tom would ever commit suicide. He is left-handed, and besides, he believes only “gutless cowards” kill themselves. Sure enough, the coroner soon rules the death a murder.
Why would anyone want to kill such an honest man, well liked and respected by all? Robbery might seem to be a motive, but none of the valuable Navajo jewelry is missing from the trading post.
While the staff of the trading post worry about losing their jobs, the murderer starts raising the stakes. Besides the threatening calls Jo receives, there are break-ins at the Outpost and at Jo’s home. She is followed and almost kidnapped. The owner of one of the companies that supplies the trading post’s Navajo style rugs is murdered. The body count rises rapidly.
And the detective assigned to the case makes no progress and, in fact, doesn’t seem very interested.
At the same time, Jo and Ben are working on their complicated relationship. They dated in high school and broke up badly. The attraction is still there despite the passage of many years, but although Ben has matured, he remembers the break up with hurt. Moreover, his relationship with his father was always conflicted. Both Ben and his father were looking forward to making a new start. Ben resents the fact that his father left the Outpost to Jo and, at first, is convinced she manipulated Tom Stuart into it.
But as Ben and Jo work together to keep the trading post going and to uncover Tom’s Stuart’s murderer, they realize their assumptions about each other are false, generating plenty of heat in the process.
The mystery is fascinating, especially with the contemporary twist at the end, but I really enjoyed the book for two other reasons.
First, the setting is captivating. The story plays out against the backdrop of the Navajo culture in the desert southwest. As in the Tony Hillerman novels, the Navajo beliefs are almost another character. Jo is studying to become a Singer, a medicine woman. Singers are called in to conduct ceremonies to replace disorder with harmony. She strives to walk in beauty; to achieve balance. Everything, she says several times, is connected.
Second, the book is really about the importance of family and community. Like Tom Stuart before her, Jo wants to keep the Outpost open not just because she loves it but because of its importance to the people who work there. Jo tries to explain this to Ben.
“You see that elderly Navajo woman and that boy talking to the medicine man? They need their jobs to take care of their families. That teenager is carrying more responsibilities than you can even imagine. You think it’ll be easy for them to find any job during this recession? A seventy-year -old woman and a kid with health issues? Your father cared about his people. That’s why he left The Outpost to me. That decision wasn’t about you, it was about keeping The Outpost going and protecting his trading post family.”
The emphasis on family in the broadest sense of the word, and of putting people before profit, the antithesis of the villains in the piece, makes A Time of Change special.
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Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. A career librarian, her second novel, Death of a Dyer, will be out in 2013. She lives in New York.