‘Blood Sisters’ is full-fledged thriller set in Cherokee Nation

Credit: Chris West

Credit: Chris West

Vanessa Lillie’s latest novel, “Blood Sisters,” features an unusual protagonist. Syd Walker is an archeologist with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As the story opens she is in the midst of unearthing human remains in Rhode Island. She’s doing that excavation when she gets word her services are needed urgently in Oklahoma.

This triggers alarms for Syd. She grew up in Oklahoma and her family still lives there. She’s a member of the Cherokee Nation and has been rather estranged from her family for the last 15 years following a horrifying incident which took place in Oklahoma when one of her sisters was murdered.

Now she has been informed another one of her sisters is missing and that human remains were found near the old home place. She doesn’t want to go, but she doesn’t have much of a choice; she loves her sister and wants to locate her before it is too late.

Syd is also having marital concerns; she just learned her partner is pregnant and she isn’t sure how she feels about it. As she departs for Oklahoma her life is in turmoil. As if this is not enough stress, she also starts seeing the ghost of her dead sister Luna. Luna makes sarcastic comments about their now missing sister Emma Lou.

When Syd arrives in Oklahoma she gets a mixed reception. Her parents are happy to see her but any joy is tempered by the fact they feel Syd moved away and abandoned them plus they are upset about the missing Emma Lou who has substance abuse problems but seemed to be turning her life around.

The author is familiar with this terrain. Lillie is Cherokee and grew up in the area where this mystery takes place. The year was 2008, the opioid epidemic was in full swing, there’s a pill mill right there in the community. And there are other pressing concerns.

This story engages readers with the plague of drug addiction, Mexican cartels are flooding the region with meth. There’s environmental devastation, lead mining interests poisoned the land. Many indigenous people had their land stolen. There’s the massive issue of missing indigenous women. And Syd works for the much reviled Bureau of Indian Affairs,

As Syd begins digging up clues about her missing sister, she soon realizes there are local people with vested interests in drugs, property rights, and illicit profits. These scary people would love to make her vanish too, just like her sisters have.

“Blood Sisters” steadily morphs into a full fledged thriller; this is a story where nothing is as it seems. Villains might become heroes and vice versa. The hairpin plot turns had this reviewer rotating vigorously late into the night.

This won’t be the last we see of Syd Walker. Lillie is writing another one. It will be set back in Rhode Island where the author actually lives on land that belongs to the Narragansett people.

You can hear my interview with Vanessa Lillie for “Blood Sisters” at 10:30 a.m. today on WYSO (91.3FM).

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.