Before the new nuclear power plant can be built, the power company must help the Navajo reclaim a long-unused uranium mine. The plan is to collapse the old shafts and refill the area with new soil, but the first explosions trigger unplanned subsidiary collapses. Ella Clah, attending the dedication and purification ceremony, acts quickly when she sees a young child sliding into the exposed tunnels. She saves his life but is herself trapped underground.
A few days later, Ella, little the worse for her nightmarish near-death experience, is checking out reports of vandalism and arson. It seems that gun control advocates on the Rez have made some enemies-enemies who soon kill for the first time, when an arson fire claims the life of the wife of a Navajo Councilmember. The home of local radio host George Branch--who may have incited the fatal arson-burns to the ground, destroying all of Branch's personal possessions, including his extensive gun collection.
Ella's investigations are hampered by what happened to her at the uranium site. Both her brother Clifford, a Navajo medicine man, and her cousin and fellow Navajo Police officer, Justine Goodluck, are convinced that Ella wasn't just unconscious when she was rescued. To all appearances, they say, Ella was dead. Justine believes that Ella's survival was a miracle; Clifford says that his hataalii abilities showed her wandering wind spirit the way back to her body. Regardless, traditionalist Navajo are reluctant to be near or even speak to Ella, fearing that since she was dead, she has been contaminated with chindi and become evil. Even some of her fellow police officers are uncomfortable in Ella's presence.
If she cannot interview witnesses and can't work with other cops, what is Ella to do? She finds solace in the unquestioning and unchanging love of her young daughter and the unflagging support of her brother, who nonetheless recommends an older hataalii who may be able to perform a special blessing ceremony for Ella. Still, it's clear that Ella's life has been changed, perhaps permanently, and that she may no longer be an effective police officer.
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After last year's blandly botanical Plant Them Deep, the Thurlos make a refreshing return to an honest-to-goodness whodunit, in which Ella Clah, special investigator for the Navajo Tribal Police, undergoes such trauma that she's forced to rethink her priorities and her entire life. When tribal councilman Lewis Hunt's invalid wife is burned to death in a suspicious house fire, Clah and her police team set out to prove arson and bring a killer to justice. But the solution turns out to be anything but simple. Local radio talk-show host George Branch has stirred up a hornet's nest regarding gun control and Hunt's stand for heavier restrictions. Branch soon finds himself a suspect in the fire investigation as well as the target of another misguided attempt to express someone's difference of opinion. And there's family trouble, too. Ella's medicine man brother, Clifford, tries to locate an elderly holy man who can perform the proper curing ceremony to alleviate the traditionalists' fears of Ella and her perceived "sickness," but meanwhile Clifford's busyness sends his wife Loretta to find more than just employment at the local college. There are no slow spots in the action as Clah dodges bullets, heads up a hostage rescue and battles her personal and job-related demons. Fans will delve into this one and feel right at home.