Black Thunder: An Ella Clah Novel by Aimee and David Thurlo

Black ThunderReviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

Ella Clah mystery fans, rejoice! The 17th novel in writing duo Aimee and David Thurlo’s series featuring Tribal Police Investigator Ella Clah, Black Thunder, is now available in your local brick & mortar bookstores and through this web site. I loved reading the 16th book, Never-Ending-Snake, the first one I’d read in the series, and Black Thunder is also an excellent, page-turning and suspenseful read.

Life on the Rez (as the authors term the New Mexico Navajo Indian Reservation where the Ella Clah series is set) is different, with its own atmosphere and its own political and religious rules. There are the views of the Traditionalists, the New Traditionalists, and the Modernists, and the authors show great sensitivity and respect to each of these groups and their diverse beliefs in their novels. Their intimate knowledge of the ways of life, culture, and mores of the Navajos shows in their writing, and makes their mystery series a unique reading experience.

When a construction crew worker hits something solid with his shovel and digs a bit deeper, he is shocked to discover a human hand, connected to the body of a murdered man. The man has been shot twice in the back of his head, execution style. Ella Clah and her partner Justine Goodluck secure the crime scene and lead the investigation under the hot summer sun, discovering eventually the graves of two more men and one woman. As in some of the other Ella Clah novels, who has jurisdiction comes into play as a part of the plot, as one of the bodies is found just across the border of the Rez, making that homicide fall under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department of San Juan County.

Ella, Justine, and San Juan Detectective Dan Nez, and FBI agent Dwayne Blalock work together to solve who committed the murders. By clues such as the growth of native plant species, which Ella learns about through consulting with her mother, Rose (who is an expert on native plants, being one of her tribe’s revered “Plant People”), they are able to determine the approximate time when the victims were murdered. Each was murdered in the spring, and with another spring rapidly approaching, Ella and her team must discover who the killer is before he strikes yet again.

Besides solving the case, which looks more and more like the handiwork of a serial killer or killers, Ella has her plate full dealing with personal issues, like her teen daughter Dawn’s skipping school, and her mother’s new obsession with cooking. Ella believes that Rose is trying to hide something that is deeply bothering her, but she can’t get her mother to talk to her about it. Including these views into Ella’s personal life, to me, adds a three-dimensionality to her character and makes you care for what happens to her and her family, drawing you deeper into the plots of the Clah novels.

Also, Ella has to contend with members of the tribe who call themselves the “Fierce Ones.” They demand that justice be done, while hypocritically threatening Ella and Justine. As if dealing with the Fierce Ones and their demands for a vigilante style of justice isn’t enough, Ella has yet a further complication in her life: her boyfriend, the Reverend Ford Tome, is being transferred and he wants Ellah and Dawn to come with him. Ella has a decision to make: should she follow the part of her heart that loves Tome and move to be with him; or, should she listen and obey the part of her heart that tells her to stay on the Rez, and remain a Tribal Police Investigator?

Black Thunder, the seventeenth novel in the Ella Clah mystery series, is a page-turner of the first order. It can be read as a stand-alone, though I highly recommend you also check out the entire series. Black Thunder is a Must Read for fans of the Ella Clah mysteries, and is a novel anyone who loves great mysteries will enjoy reading.

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