Louis Owens succeeds in blending Native American folklore with the traditional mystery genre to create a unique novel of intrigue, suspense, and wonder. Cole McCurtain is a recently divorced, mixed-blood professor of American Indian studies at the University of Santa Cruz. Trying to build a new life and attempting to come to terms with his mixed heritage, Cole’s turmoil is reflected in a dreamlike encounter with an Indian who is painted half white and half black and who carries small bones resembling dice. Cole is not sure if the Indian is human, the ghost of a long-dead medicine man, or the incarnation of the gambler of American Indian mythology. Not only does this strange apparition foreshadow Cole’s identity crisis as he struggles with his Indian heritage but it also seems to be mysteriously connected to a series of vicious murders in Santa Cruz.
When he meets Alex, a full-blood Navaho colleague and a cross-dressing trickster, Cole begins to reconnect with his Indian background. Although the murders continue, Cole is not really concerned until his daughter Abby becomes a potential target. Finally, Cole’s father Hoey, his great-uncle Luther, and his aunt Onatima, all powerful Choctaw shamans, travel from Mississippi to help Cole and Abby, because as Luther says, “This story’s so big, Cole sees only a little bit of it.”
Magical realism is a major characteristic of modern American literature, and BONE GAME is no exception. By combining the enigmatic character of the spiritual world with mundane and oftentimes violent human existence, Owens expands the limits of the mystery genre. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable, intriguing, and haunting reading experience.