Why would any self-respecting burglar break into an abandoned service station? And, having done so, why compound the fecklessness by killing a cop? These are perplexing questions for Special Investigator Ella Clah (Changing Woman, 2002, etc.) of the Navajo Tribal police in her sixth venture into Hillerman country. The answers, unsurprisingly, lie in the sturdy old genre truism that what you see is never what you get. The service station hasn’t been totally abandoned, for instance, but instead has been in service as a storehouse for all manner of intriguing items. And the murdered cop isn’t just another pretty uniform, but the son of an eminent Native American physicist. As usual, however, homicide does not swim alone in Ella’s sea of troubles. There’s her increasing worry about her mother’s deepening role as a controversial tribal figure. There’s her own dwindling love life. And there’s the smoldering tension between reservation modernists and conservatives, leaving Ella, as usual, somewhere in the unenviable middle. This time, the controversy centers on the fiery Navajo Electrical Energy Development project (NEED). For the sake of jobs and economic health, modernists want a Navajo-controlled nuclear energy plant on the rez. Because they perceive in this development a crippling threat to the old ways, conservatives are violently opposed. Is the young cop’s murder somehow a by-blow? Of course it is, though it takes Ella a painfully long time to track the bear.
Earnest, well-meaning, interminable. Again, the Thurlos ace sociology but flunk storytelling.