The Earth Mother commands a Paleolithic Spirit Man to solve a murder.
Raven, a Spirit Man who doubts the existence of spirits, has never been sure of his worth in the role, but at his advanced age, he’s acquired enough wisdom to put on a good show. His small tribe is part of The People, who are migrating across the far north of Alaska, following the vast herds of animals that provide for most of their needs. When Tall Pine, one of the tribe’s leaders, is found garroted, Raven realizes the killer must be one of their own band. That night, he dreams his skull is in a strange hut, being held in the hands of a strange man; Raven can understand him when he speaks. When another member of the tribe is killed and a third wounded on a hunting trip, the Earth Mother who shares a body with Raven’s wife, Willow, who he thought had drowned many years earlier, tells Raven that he must solve the murders. After Raven runs away with Down, the clever daughter of Stone, the tribal head who dislikes Raven but fears his power, the Mother convinces the members of the tribe, who have been hunting the pair, that they will not be healed unless Raven solves the crimes. Meanwhile, Raven continues to have painfully prophetic dreams revealing the horrors that will be wrought on his land by oil exploration in the centuries to come. It’s hard for a nonbeliever like Raven to be both a detective and a Spirit Man, reconciling the past and trying to change the future to please a goddess he isn’t sure exists.
Hayes, best known for his Mad Dog & Englishman series (English Lessons, 2011, etc.), draws on his expertise in archaeology and anthropology in this stand-alone. The mystery is slight, but the portrait of tribal life and the lyrical descriptions of an untouched land are worth the read.