What seems to be a carjacking gone wrong leads to the death of Jimmy Blacksheep, a Navajo member of the New Mexico National Guard recently returned from Iraq. When Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah receives a mysterious package in the mail, she begins to suspect that Jimmy’s death is part of something larger.
Complicating the case is the fact that Jimmy’s brother, Samuel Blacksheep, is also a cop, on the Farmington PD. Samuel is also ostensibly investigating Jimmy’s death, but Ella wonders why Jimmy sent his secret message to her rather than his own brother. If Jimmy didn’t trust Samuel, perhaps Ella shouldn’t either.
When even the FBI’s experts are unable to figure out the dead man’s message, Ella realizes that she must use Navajo lore, not cryptography, to decode it. Tantalizing clues link Jimmy’s death to his military service—but what could the medic have seen in Iraq that would make him a target for murder back home?
Ella’s personal life seems just as complicated as her case. Her mother, Rose Destea, marries her long-time beau, Herman Cloud, and moves in with him. While Ella is delighted to see her mother happy, she cannot help but worry about making sure her daughter, Dawn, is safe and cared for at all times. Dawn’s father asks for a change in custody arrangements that will reduce Ella to a weekend mother—a much easier fit with her workload but something that will take a terrible toll on her heart.