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Book Author: Anne Hillerman

SONG OF THE LION by Anne Hillerman: Book Review

Song of the Lion brings the reader to to Navajo country again, to beautiful New Mexico.  The novel opens with what should be a peaceful scene, a high school basketball game.  Police officer Bernadette Manuelito, herself a former player, has come to the gym to cheer the local teams.

Noise from the parking lot causes the building to shake, and Bernadette runs outside to see what’s happening.  A car is in ruins, debris spread on the concrete. 

A few minutes later another officer finds a badly burned young man near the car.  Federal officers arrive to help direct the investigation, and the victim is taken by ambulance to the hospital.

The owner of the car that was bombed is Aza Palmer, a former high school basketball star and now a successful lawyer in Phoenix.  He’s in town because he will be the mediator at a major conference to be held in nearby Tuba City, Arizona.

There’s a proposal that will be discussed at the conference about the possibility of building a luxury resort on land near the Grand Canyon that is owned by the Navajo tribe.  There are many conflicting points of view about the wisdom of going ahead with this, and a plethora of groups will be meeting to give their input, pro and con, about it.

Given the possibility that the bombing of Aza’s car may have been an attempt to kill him or at least dissuade him from going to the meeting, Jim Chee, Bernadette’s husband and a fellow officer in the Shiprock Police Department, is assigned to be Aza’s bodyguard during the conference.  Aza doesn’t want a bodyguard, and Jim doesn’t want to be the one who guards him, but the two men are given no choice.

The Shiprock police captain explains that there could be real danger for Palmer since he’s also been receiving threatening emails and that a similar conference in California had erupted in violence caused by one of the groups that will be attending this meeting.  So, very reluctantly, Palmer and Chee acquiesce and drive to Tuba City the following day to get ready for the conference.

Song of the Lion brings Bernadette, Jim, and their mentor Joe Leaphorn together to investigate.  Was the injured young man the one who set the explosive, or was he simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Was the car chosen randomly, or was the perpetrator trying to kill or injure Aza Palmer?

In spite of the blast and the threats against him, Palmer simply refuses to believe he’s in danger.  He would seem to be the perfect man to mediate the conference featuring such a disparate group of attendees and speakers–people from the Navajo Nation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, and Save Wild America, to name a few–but apparently not everyone thinks so.

You will be transported to Shiprock and its environs as soon as you open this novel.  Everything is described in loving detail, and Anne Hillerman’s love for this section of the country shines through.  Whether her characters are talking about the differences between “Indian food” and “American food,” telling Navajo or Hopi stories, or describing the grandeur of the various landscapes, you’ll feel a part of the scene.  And you’ll probably never meet three more delightful protagonists than Bernadette Manuelito, Jim Chee, and Joe Leaphorn.

You can read more about Anne Hillerman at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER by Anne Hillerman: Book Review

Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito is enjoying a quiet staff breakfast at a small restaurant near Window Rock, Arizona.  As Bernadette and retired police lieutenant Joe Leaphorn leave the breakfast and walk to their vehicles a shot rings out and Leaphorn falls to the pavement, critically wounded.

Anne Hillerman’s first novel follows the path paved by her late father, the greatly admired mystery author Tony Hillerman.  The characters will be familiar to those who have read the previous Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels, but in Spider Woman’s Daughter it’s Bernie Manuelito who takes the lead role.

It’s hard for the police to find any motive for the shooting.  Leaphorn was well-respected by all members of the community, including those he apprehended.  Bilaganna, or revenge, is not a part of traditional Navajo culture, but it’s possible that whoever attempted to kill Leaphorn is either a white person or else an Indian who has fallen far from the values of the Navajo.

Although she has been taken off the case because she is a witness to the shooting, as is police procedure, Bernie cannot leave the shooting alone.  She continues to ask questions in her search for the shooter.  She tells Captain Largo, “This case is personal.  I promised I’d find whoever shot him.”  Largo responds, “I don’t want to have to fire you.  But I will if you can’t take orders.”

So instead of investigating the crime, Bernie is sent off to find Louisa Bourebonette, the woman Leaphorn lives with, and any relatives Leaphorn may have.  But Louisa isn’t at home or at work, and Bernie can’t find any relatives, so she decides to look for Leaphorn’s killer despite Largo’s orders.

The only possibly pertinent thing Bernie finds at Leaphorn’s house is a large envelope addressed to a Dr. John Collingsworth at the AIRC, a museum and gallery in Santa Fe.  She drives to Santa Fe to give Collingsworth the envelope, but he is disappointed when he opens it.  It’s Leaphorn’s bill, not the report he expected.  The AIRC is anticipating a huge donation of Indian works.  Given Leaphorn’s investigative background plus his knowledge of Indian pottery and rugs, Collingsworth had hired him to look over the valuations of the items donated to see if they were realistic.  But Leaphorn’s report is missing.

In addition to her unauthorized police work, Bernie is dealing with her own family issues.  Her sister Darleen and their mother are living together, an arrangement that sounds good on paper but isn’t working well.   Their mother is showing early signs of dementia and shouldn’t be left alone, but Darleen can’t be trusted to stay with her and resents her role as a caretaker.  She views Bernie as having it all–a loving husband in Jim Chee, an exciting job, and no real responsibility for their mother.

It’s a pleasure to read Ms. Hillerman’s debut novel.  Her characters are real, and her knowledge of the lore of the Diné (Navajo) people is profound.  She seamlessly weaves this information into the plot, and the reader feels as if she/he is taking a tour of the Navajo Nation (Naabeehó Bináhásdzo), a fascinating place to be.  Anne Hillerman has written what I hope will be the first in a long series about the continuing adventures of the Navajo police in general and Bernadette Manuelito in particular.

You can read more about Anne Hillerman at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.