Ghost Medicine is the seventeenth novel featuring Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah, and it might be the last one that the writing husband and wife duo of Aimee and David Thurlo write in the Ellah Clah series. In Ghost Medicine, one of the best in the series, the intrepid Ellah Clah must find out who murdered her old flame, Harry Ute. Was it Navajo skinwalkers, like the ones who murdered her own father, or was it someone trying to make it look as if a skinwalker was the murderer?
Ellah Clah is a strong, independent woman who has her hands full in Ghost Medicine, trying to solve the murder of Harry Ute, whose fingertips had been cut off, and also in dealing with a job offer, spending time with her family, and the ongoing clash between Navajo Modernists and Traditionalists. Why would anyone want to cut off the fingertips of someone that he had murdered, other than to try to stall the identification of the body? Ellah Clah realizes that it’s something that the Navajo skinwalkers often did, whenever they killed someone and tried to instill the fear of evil magic in the hearts and souls of others in the community.
As Ellah tells Justine:
“Stealing the whorls, the fingertips, that’s the mark of…the evil ones.”
Reading Ghost Medicine was like reconnecting with old friends, because I have become a fan of the Ellah Clah series over the years. If this one is really to be the final one in the series, I will definitely miss the anticipation of reading a new Ellah Clah novel whenever I have heard that one is about to be published.
In Ghost Medicine, Ella Clah is partnered with another very capable police officer, Justine, who happens to be her cousin. Her old partner is recovering from gunshot wounds he suffered in the Ellah Clah novel, I think it was Black Thunder, though it may have been in Never-Ending-Snake.
Safety Director Bidtah plant to, as Ellah puts it, “get rid of nonessential officers and what his speechwriters call ‘deadwood.” The so-called “nonessential officers” and “deadwood” included her boss, Police Chief Atcitty.
Also, as Ellah Clah tells her cousin and for now, partner, Justine, Bidtah:
“I understand he plans to cut costs by closing down our special investigations unit, and reducing the number of detectives at our station.”
In Ghost Medicine, Ella and Justine receive a call to investigate the homicide of a man found in a truck by Bitsy, a friend of Ella’s daughter, Dawn. Bitsy was out riding her horse when she came upon the crime scene.
As Ella and Justine approach the crime scene, They encounter and arrest two petty thieves are trying to steal the truck’s battery. They don’t believe that the two men were involved in the murder of the man, who is hard to recognize at first, but who Ellah eventually recognizes as being Harry Ute by a “little mole above his left eyebrow and a tiny scar along his jawline.”
The victim was shot in the head, on the left side above the ear, and the tips of his fingers have been cut off. The murder has all the signs of having been committed by a Navajo skinwalker.
Besides being a former Navajo police officer, Harry Ute had dated Ellah ten years ago, and he’d even asked Ellah for her hand in marriage before he left for the United States Marshal’s Service.
Why was Harry Ute’s notebook missing? The person who committed the murder, Ellah Clah reason, believed that there was something in Harry’s notebook that would incriminate him in some other crime/crimes.
It doesn’t take Ellah long to learn that Harry had been working for a local private investigator, Bruce “Teeny” Little, who is a three-hundred-pound Navajo. Harry was looking into stolen San Juan County property, Navajo artifacts that were being sold on the Internet, possibly by a county employee. Was Harry Ute murdered by whoever was behind the thefts, who then tried to cover up his crimes by murdering Harry and making it appear to be the work of Navajo skinwalkers?
Also investigating the thefts of the Navajo relics is county cop Dan Nez. The two detectives—each top dog in their own territory—will have to share jurisdiction, which will be easier said than done, because of their growing attraction to each other.
Ghost Medicine is full of suspense, and the writing of Aimee and David Thurlo is top-notch, as usual. It can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, though I would highly recommend that you also check out the other novels in the Ellah Clah series, as they are all excellent reads.
Written by: Douglas Cobb