Three friends investigate relics of theft and murders on the site of the Wounded Knee massacre in the South Dakota Badlands, and subsequent events suggest activity by Native American spirits.
This is the second volume in what is billed the Badlands Mystery Series, set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Hattie Gerald, the middle-aged white widow of a Lakota Indian, is on a picnic with old friend and burgeoning romantic interest Alan Wilson, a special agent who heads the regional FBI office, when they stumble across a murder victim buried in a shallow grave. The site had been recently hit with a rash of incidents in which lucrative fossils and Native American artifacts have been stolen, and scars on the body indicate that some ritual had taken place. Hattie and Alan consult an elderly friend, Buffalo Thunder, who is wise in the ways of Lakotan mythology and culture. When a second body turns up–Buffalo’s longtime girlfriend–an expanding group of investigators scramble for a connection between the two seemingly disparate victims and the missing artifacts. Buffalo and Red Wolfe, the tribe’s medicine man, are convinced that the ghosts of ancestors are angry at the pilfering of remains, but there is also disturbing evidence that malignant spirits have also come into play. Colhoff does an excellent job with lush natural description and explains Indian cosmology and rites with fluid grace. Likewise, her core group of heroes is instantly likable, and the plot is compelling. But the author’s stilted dialogue and attempts to shoehorn a spectral presence into the action seem heavy-handed and detract from the overall flow.
This series shows promise–with a bit of polishing, future efforts could find a solid audience with fans of Tony Hillerman and J.A. Jance.