In my search for novels featuring Native American characters, I was given the opportunity to read Black Thunder, by Aimee and David Thurlo. While it is the sixteenth novel in the mystery series featuring Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah, it was my first book in the series. I am an avid reader of Native American culture, both fiction and non-fiction. I have read all the Wind River Reservation mysteries by Margaret Coel, a bunch of Tony Hillerman tales, as well as a number of non-fiction titles.
One of the things I look for when I pick up a novel with Native Americans as the main characters is that I learn new things about their culture and history. Since Coel is a historian of Native Americans, I know when I pick up one of her books I’ll learn about the Arapaho tribe. Now, with the Ella Clah books, I’m looking forward to having the Thurlos introduce me to the Navajo tribe.
Early on, there is a nice description of the Navajo outlook on life that permeated through the entire story:
She knew that look. The need to restore order so all could walk in beauty was more than just a concept. It was the way of life on the Diné Bikéyah, Navajo country.
Now, this isn’t to say that Black Thunder is just a dull read filled only with facts about the Navajos. The story moves along at a good pace, and the hook to get readers interested is quite strong. When a construction crew unearths a dead body outside the reservation, the tribal police open an investigation, which leads to the discovery of several more bodies. All these people have been murdered, execution-style, with two bullets in the back of the head. Naturally, this makes the identification of the bodies that much more difficult. Because the bodies are discovered on and off the reservation, Clah and her partner (and cousin), Justine Goodluck, have to work with New Mexico police.
This works in Clah’s favor because the state police have access to extra manpower and resources not always available to the Navajo police. Clah is a strong female lead character with a strong sense of family. That foundation makes her a compelling character to read, and a detective that will certainly appeal to female readers. The Thurlos did a good job introducing the elements of the mystery, nicely keeping the reveal of the truth behind the murders until the very end.
I love discovering a new author and, when I do, I blow through every book in the series. I look forward to reading all the other Ella Clah mysteries.
Vanessa L. Parker is a jewelry artist and avid reader. You can see her work at Betoj Designs.