Causing Chaos (Inola Walela/Steven Hawk Suspense Series Book 4), by Deborah J. Ledford, IOF Productions Ltd (March 31, 2015), 308 pp.
Deborah J. Ledford follows Staccato (2009), Snare (2010) and Crescendo (2014) with another powerful mystery/thriller set in the western North Carolina world of the Smoky Mountains and the Eastern Band Cherokee trust lands of the Qualla Boundary.
The story begins in blood, “Red streaks on the lower cabinets, an overturned chair, the oven door. An arc of crimson, the entire height of one wall.”
While Cherokee artist Paven Nahar works in his studio, his wife Shellie argues with two art dealers in the couple’s house who insist on acquiring the sculpture in progress. When Paven returns to the house later, he finds a bloody kitchen, a shattered pottery urn and no sign of his wife.
Paven, who is soon on the run, quickly becomes the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance and presumed murder. Inola “Hummingbird” Walela, the only Cherokee in the Bryson City police department is tasked with the capture of the man who was her closest childhood friend.
The story is also defined by blood, blood as represented by the often conflicting love and drama within a family, and blood as a force of heritage and loyalty for members of the Cherokee Nation. Walela’s case is potentially related to an unsolved series “Qualla Ghosts” cases of missing women on tribal lands. This increases the pressure on Walela while ramping up the suspense for readers.
While each novel in this very cohesive series has developed the characters of Walela and her boyfriend Steven Hawk, Causing Chaos belongs to Hummingbird in every possible way. While the novel is aptly categorized as a police procedural and thriller, it is also a deeply personal story for Walela as multiple layers of her past and her family/tribal relationships come to light. Among these is a childhood incident, a source of nightmares and latent fears, that may somehow be related to the fate of Paven and Shellie and to the puzzling Qualla Ghost cases.
Causing Chaos is a cop story with great depth and a heartbreaking psychological undertow.
On a personal note, I have been hiking and vacationing in western North Carolina since childhood and have a deep fondness for the Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the sacred waters of the Oconaluftee River. Ledford’s novels not only fit hand-in-glove within this setting, but enhance it for those of us who know it well.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy and magical realism fiction, including “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”