Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Spider Woman’s Daughter and Navajo Country

Navajo Police Officer Bernie Manuelito takes center stage in this continuation of the Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn  series when she is the only eye witness to the shooting of retired Navajo police lieutenant Joe Leaphorn.  While she is required to take leave after the incident, her husband Sergeant Jim Chee is the officer in charge of the case, so she is able to remain involved in the investigation.  Together they must pursue a lot of leads, many of which lead them to dead ends.  This time they must solve the crime without the assistance of Joe Leaphorn who fights for his life in an Albuquerque hospital.

 Anne Hillerman, the daughter of Tony Hillerman, attempts to carry on the family legacy of her father's outstanding series set in Navajo country.  She has written a serviceable mystery, but it is missing the heart and soul of her father’s writing.  Tony Hillerman had the ability to immerse the reader in Navajo culture and the Western landscape.  Anne Hillerman’s characters don’t come off the page and live with you as they did when her father wrote the series.  Anne Hillerman was a reporter and non-fiction writer before she undertook this novel, so she may improve with practice and skilled editorial guidance. 
When I finished this mystery, I got out some of my books on the Navajo lands and realized how much I enjoyed my brief glimpse of the people and their homeland during my travels years ago.

I was hiking down a canyon in Navajo country when I came across a Navajo elder tending her sheep.  She saw me, then turned and walked away.  We waited until she disappeared before taking this photo of her hogan.

The land is one of the most powerful images in a Tony Hillerman mystery, but daughter Anne wasn’t able to make the area come alive for me.  Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire describes the four corners region: “I sometimes choose to think…that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real.  Rock and sun.”

“From the ancient dwelling there came always a dignified, unobtrusive sadness; now stronger, now fainter….a voice out of the past, not very loud…went on saying a few simple things to the solitude eternally.”

                                    --Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark, 1915


  1. When I saw the picture of the cover, I was excited to think that the series might continue. And, hopefully, Anne Hillerman will improve. One of my favorite authors--Reginald Hill--got better with each book. I'm holding out hope that Anne will, too.

    I love the quotes you included, Teresa!

    1. Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee books are such classics that go beyond the mystery genre--they are just excellent suspenseful novels. Even the Navajo appreciated Hillerman.