Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan traces the real, overwhelming and ultimately life-changing events which follow the discovery of oil in the Osage Indian Territory, Oklahoma in the 1920s. Many of the Osage Indians become extremely wealthy extremely quickly but their lack of business acumen shows and they are taken advantage of to the point of corruption and death by unscrupulous white businessmen and government officials. Grace Blanket, who is "the richest Indian in the world," is dead and it seems that her murder and the other many unsolved murders will be covered up and remain unsolved.
The book is fictional but blends historical accuracy with magic realism, which is fitting for a novel concerning the culture of the Osage Indians, many of whom were killed for their land and the oil beneath. Culture and spiritual beliefs have a strong presence and affect many of the decisions made ensuring that the connection with their traditional beliefs is very real for the otherwise contemporary Indians. The Osage are set apart but demeaned constantly as is evident in comments like "We don't have that kind of money and we're Americans," which suggests that the Osage have no real claim over their own land.
John Stink's eccentricity precedes him. He seems to have rejected the so-called prosperity promised to the Osage and after apparently dying in the novel, Stink the ghost who never speaks is significant because he represents the silenced masses. The Osage tribe's attempts to regain its heritage are constantly thwarted by money-hungry and unscrupulous people.
According to the Pawnee legend, "Roaring Thunder" or John Stink as he is known in the novel, having been buried revives himself (or his ghost rises) and wanders around looking for answers, shunned by the people who believe he is some kind of taboo ghost or spirit. He is harmless, deaf and mute just as many of his people and many Native Indians are, powerless to fight for their rights and even their lives.