Though much of the story is told from the perspective of Mundo Morales, he does not dominate it, for the narrative shifts back and forth among him, Cole McCurtain, and Uncle Luther; one chapter is even told from the point of view of the corpse. A veteran of Vietnam, Mundo has a shaky position as a deputy sheriff; his boss threatens to throw him back to being a janitor if he persists in asserting himself instead of being a docile subordinate. Despite opposition from all the authorities, he continues his investigation with intelligence and tenacity. Mundo’s Mexican ancestors once owned all the land in the Salinas Valley; now most of it belongs to Dan Nemi, the chief suspect in the murder. Yet Mundo does not feel sorry for himself; he has a good marriage and self-respect, and he comes to appreciate the part-Indian ancestry that he shares with the McCurtains.
Hoey McCurtain’s Irish father would not let him speak the language of his Choctaw mother and labeled him “white” on his birth certificate, but Hoey has chosen to consider himself an Indian and to direct his son Cole back to his roots. Cole could pass for white yet has not only a Choctaw grandmother but also a Cherokee mother; it is by learning the lessons of the Choctaw shamans that he finds himself and allays his murdered brother’s troubled spirit. Diana Nemi, the white teenage princess, is addicted to having sex with Indians as a substitute for finding her own identity. The ghost of Mundo’s grandfather calls her a witch, a “bruja.” Hoey’s Uncle Luther and his friend Onatima express most of the wisdom (as well as the humor) of the novel as they explore with Cole the significance of Indian values and the nature of the evil running amok in a world out of balance. Jessard Deal, the enormous, violent, poetry-quoting tavern owner, alludes to Jonathan Edwards, believes in innate depravity, and manifests it in his own actions.