(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Anticipating the normal petty disturbances associated with the annual Cherokee Heritage Celebration, Chief Mitchell Bushyhead is stunned when a young girl is murdered. Tamarah Birch, a third grader at the tribal boarding school, is found strangled in the woods with her panties missing, suggesting sexual molestation. Bushyhead must act quickly. In a few days the celebration and the school term will end, and possible witnesses and suspects—the tourists, students, and teachers—will leave Buckskin, Oklahoma making the investigation more difficult, if not impossible.

Suspects he has plenty. The school principal, Peter Qualls, is unusually defensive and irritable. Is he concerned with preserving the reputation of the school, or is he protecting himself? After all, he is known to be an autocrat with a quick temper, and Tamarah was to meet him at his office the morning of her murder. And what about Ellis Harlan, the coach and PE teacher, who inexplicably moves from job to job every two or three years? The actions of his fearful, timid wife and overly rebellious daughter, Kendall, suggest a family with a dark, secretive past. Then there are the janitor with his pornographic magazines and town resident Dwayne Burns, an exhibitionist recently released from the state psychiatric hospital.

But witnesses and evidence are lacking, and Bushyhead is stymied until he discovers a clue in one of Tamarah’s sketches. Apprehending the murderer gains in urgency when Ruthann, Tamarah’s best friend, and Kendall are both reported missing. Bushyhead must find connections between seemingly unrelated events: bank robberies in nearby towns, ski masks with or without red circles around the eyes, and a sketch of an oak tree. And he must do so before tribal youngbloods take matters into their own hands to ensure that Tamarah’s soul is released from ghostland, “where spirits of murder victims wander until their deaths are avenged.”

GHOSTLAND reads quickly. The plot is engrossing enough that one does not mind the stereotypic characters and loose ends. An added plus is the inclusion of Cherokee rituals, folklore, and customs.