A Native American Richard Condon might have conjured up this neatly plotted thriller, a wonderful companion to Owens's two previous novels, The Sharpest Sight (1992) and Bone Game (1994). The story begins with a very real bang when part-Cherokee ranchers and lifelong friends Billy Keene and Will Striker come upon a dead body and a suitcase containing a million dollars. It looks as if the body has literally fallen from the sky. ``It's a gift from the Great Spirit,'' Billy insists, but a hail of gunfire from a helicopter makes it seem likely that the Spirit's bounty won't be easy to hold onto. Outwitting their pursuers and hiding their windfall, the two try to settle inconspicuously back into the routines of their hard lives, scraping by in a New Mexico backwater. Events, however, rapidly turn deeply weird. Billy's grandfather Siquani, a believer in the power of the ancestral forces surrounding them, is visited by a ghost (possibly the ghost of the man with the suitcase) who plays checkers with the old man and teaches him how to drive, precipitating one of the plot's many delicious twists and turns. Equally memorable appearances are made by: Will's estranged wife Jace, now a big-city lawyer; Odessa Nighthawk, a steely half-breed Ph.D. whose amorous appropriation of Billy is just a mite suspicious (there's evidence she may be a shape-shifter); and Paco Ortega, a thoughtful drug smuggler who, accompanied by a hilariously foulmouthed gunsel, comes to claim all that belongs to him. Owens skillfully braids together deadpan comedy, Indian legend and superstition, and stringent criticism of White American injustice (``everything in the psyche of this country tells people that they can just put the past behind them, that they aren't responsible for yesterday'') in a swiftly paced tale that's as thoughtful and provocative as it is irresistibly entertaining. Tony Hillerman, take notice. This is how it's done.