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Book Author: Anne Hillerman

THE WAY OF THE BEAR by Anne Hillerman: Book Review

It was supposed to be a relaxing trip to Bears Ears National Monument for Bernadette Manuelito and Jim Chee.  Although the official reason for Jim’s visit is to look into a possible donation to the Navajo Nation’s Fallen Officers Memorial Fund, it is also an opportunity for him to partake in a sweat lodge ceremony led by Desmond Grayhair, the hatááłi and leader from the Navajo Mountain community.

In addition, Chee sees it as an opportunity for Bernadette to recharge and overcome the sadness recently surrounding her.  He knows his wife is disappointed at having been passed over for a promotion to detective, but he feels it is more than that, something that his wife isn’t able or willing to share.

While Jim is at the sweat lodge ceremony, Bernie walks amidst the sandstone buttes in the Valley of the Gods, recalling the history of her Diné ancestors.  Suddenly a dark pickup heads toward her, getting closer and closer as its headlights shine directly on her.   An arm extends from the truck’s passenger side, and a there’s a rifle shot.  It misses her, but she’s too far from her car to give chase.

When Manuelito and Chee are back in their room at the motel where they’re staying, the woman occupying the adjoining unit knocks on their door.  Chee met her briefly earlier in the day, and she introduced herself then as Jessica Johnson, an archaeologist working in the area with her husband Kyle, a paleontologist.  Now, several hours after that meeting, Jessica tells Jim and Bernie that her husband is overdue on his return from Bear Ears and that she hasn’t heard from him.

Bernie and Jim return to the spot where Bernie was nearly run over and shot at, and they meet Ranger Cassidy Kingsley of the Bureau of Land Management.  She seems oddly reluctant to believe Bernie’s story about the truck and its shooter, although she promises to pass the information on to the sheriff.

Then another strange thing happens.  Dr. Chapman Dulles, the man Chee was supposed to see about the donation to the Navajo Fund, disappears.  Could it have something to do with the groundbreaking work he is doing regarding fossils?  He has discovered a fossilized jawbone and the attached skull of a dinosaur ancestor, what he calls a “once-in-a-millennium find.”  Or is it more personal, considering that his truck’s tires were slashed and he had begun receiving threatening phone calls?

The million-plus acres of Bears Ears National Monument is rich with archaeological and paleontological artifacts, and in addition it is a holy place for the Navajo Nation.  However, it’s obvious there is something definitely unholy happening there now.

The Way of the Bear is the eighth mystery featuring Bernadette Manuelito and Jim Chee (with a brief mention of Joe Leaphorn), and Bernie and Jim complement each other in every way.  Theirs is a true partnership both personally and professionally.

As always, Anne Hillerman has written an exciting, captivating novel with characters who are believable and a plot that will keep you turning pages to the end of the book.  You can read more about her at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

STARGAZER by Anne Hillerman: Book Review

Frankly, I cannot get enough of Anne Hillerman’s mysteries.  Stargazer, the sixth in her Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito series, once again takes readers to the sovereign Navajo Nation, enhancing the understanding of its culture and customs to those who are not familiar with them.

Steve Jones desperately wants a reconciliation with his wife Maya Kelsey, but she is not interested.  She tells him that their marriage is over, and to prove it she hands him a copy of the divorce papers she’s filed.  He becomes furious, threatening to make Maya’s life “a living hell.”  And the next morning a young boy finds Steve’s lifeless body slumped in the front seat of his Jaguar.

That same morning Officer Bernie Manuelito receives a phone call from Maya’s brother Leon.  He tells her that his sister was supposed to pick up her son at his house, but she never appeared.  Bernie and Maya were college roommates, so Bernie has a personal reason as well as a professional one for trying to locate her.  In attempting to track Maya down, Bernie receives a call from a detective in another department, Tara Williams, and learns that the dead body the boy found is Maya’s estranged husband Steve.

Upon returning to the station, Bernie’s husband/supervisor Jim Chee greets her with a stunning announcement.  Maya had walked into the station a short while earlier and confessed to the murder of her husband without giving any reason.  However, Bernie refuses to believe her.  “We have an unsolicited confession without any excuse, motivation, and justification for the murder,” Bernie tells Jim.  She can’t imagine why Maya would so calmly admit to killing her (almost) former husband, and she is determined to investigate.

However, there are other cases to pursue in the Navajo Nation.  In addition to the issue of Steve Jones’ death, Bernie has become involved in rescuing an abused woman, serving a warrant on a man who hasn’t obeyed a summons to appear in court, and dealing with her mother’s increasingly fragile memory.  Stress is piling up, and the differences between her opinion and that of her husband’s about Maya’s confession have made their usual loving bond more than a little frayed.

Although retired from his position as a detective in the Navajo Tribal Police Force, Joe Leaphorn still acts as a mentor for Bernie and Jim.  In Stargazer, Bernie phones Joe and asks if they could talk “face-to-face, not over the phone.”  When she gets to his house, she voices her concerns about whether she should apply to become a detective; she’s worried about all the “official BS” and about how her being called away on cases may affect her relationship with her husband.

In this time of non-travel, visiting the beautiful Navajo Nation, even in our imaginations, is a boon.  Many thanks to Anne Hillerman for bringing Bernie, Jim, and Joe back into our lives.  And as an added plus, the front cover art of Stargazer is absolutely breathtaking.

You can read more about Anne Hillerman at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


CAVE OF BONES by Anne Hillerman: Book Review

The Navajo Way.  It’s a culture whose people recognize the importance of nature, are respectful of their elders, think carefully before talking, and hold the belief that the Holy People are the ones who created the earth and its population.  This set of beliefs permeates every part of the lives of the three protagonists in Anne Hillerman’s series about the Navajo Tribal Police–Bernadette Manuelito, Jim Chee, and Joe Leaphorn–and the people they serve on the reservation.

Bernie’s latest case begins with an invitation to speak at a Wings and Roots program.  Wings and Roots is an agency devoted to helping young people who are in trouble, perhaps with the legal system or in a domestic abuse situation or as truants.  However, when she arrives at the campsite where a group of girls and the staff are camped for a night in the lava fields, there’s a search going on for one of the girls, Annie Rainsong, and for Dom Cruz, a staff member of the program.

Annie returns to base camp almost immediately after Bernie’s arrival, but Cruz remains missing.  As he is an experienced hiker who is very familiar with the area, the two other staff members can’t understand how he could have gotten lost.  Bernie gets Annie to tell her of the night she spent lost, and the girl reveals that she disobeyed the program’s instructions to remain in the spot she was assigned and instead went wandering.  Cold and frightened, she entered a small cave where she spent the night, and when she awoke in the morning she saw a small bundle of old bones on the cave’s floor.

Naturally, Annie is horrified by her discovery, especially given the Navajo beliefs regarding death.  These hold that evil spirits, the chindi, will return to the earth if a corpse is not properly buried and the appropriate traditions are not carried out.  Thus, these unburied bones constitute a sacrilege and could possibly prove a threat to the person finding them.

Caves of Bones is a wonderfully crafted mystery that follows Bernie and Jim as their investigations verge from the search for Cruz to the search for another Navajo man, to possible drug trafficking, the illegal sale of the tribe’s pottery, and alleged mismanagement at Wings and Roots.  It’s all connected, but unraveling the threads is not easy.  This fourth novel will make its readers eagerly awaiting its sequel.

Bernie Manuelito and Jim Chee are beautifully brought to life in Cave of Bones, as is retired detective Joe Leaphorn who plays a smaller part in this mystery.  The reader understands, especially in Bernie’s case, where she came from and how and why she became the dedicated police officer she is.  Her personal life is a very important part of these books:  her marriage to Chee, her sometimes strained relationship with her younger sister, and the beginning of her fear that all is not well with her mother.

You can read more about Anne Hillerman at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


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.