Though this is billed as a mystery for Navajo tribal cop Ella Clah, it takes her mom to catch the thief.
The Plant People—special healing herbs with names like “sweet cattail” and “tenacious”—have been vanishing from the Rez at an alarming rate, and the Navajo Tribal Council hires Plant Watcher Rose Destea to do something about it. Redoubtable Rose, mother of formidable Special Investigator Ella (Tracking Bear, p. 193, etc.), is a fierce defender of “the old ways,” a bloodhound at sniffing out anything that might have the effect of loosening their grip. Gladly accepting the job, she says, “We need the Plant People, and we now have to find and take care of them so they’ll become plentiful again.” Soon enough, Rose learns that some light-fingered so-and-so sees profit in filching her precious plants for nefarious purposes. Exactly what they might be, Rose has yet to fathom, though there are multiple possibilities and suspects, both tribal and Anglo. When murder rears its ugly head, however, it becomes frighteningly clear that no one who gets in the way of a determined and unscrupulous villain is safe—not Rose, not her friends, not even Ella, who ventures in from the wings for a walk-on or two.
Unfortunately, the prose is pedestrian, the pace drags, and though the tribal lore is, as usual, genuinely interesting, it’s not quite enough to redeem a pokey, dozy cozy.