I did not plan it this way, but June is turning out to be Mystery Month. This is payback for those of you who would rather have a mystery for a beach or airplane read than a romance.
We started with the wonderful Light in the Ruins, for a trip to Florence Italy. See that one here.
On our summer mystery tour we are going to go to Bucks County Pennsylvania, to the Navajo Reservation, to New York City (twice), and to Barcelona. And those are only the ones I have already scheduled. Who know where else we may wander during this month of mystery?
Destination: the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico
Book: Spider Woman’s Daughter: A Leaphorn and Chee Novel by Anne Hillerman (2013)
Fans of Tony Hillerman’s books set in Diné Bikeyah (Navajo Country)–in Arizona and New Mexico, are cheering the decision by his daughter, Anne Hillerman to continue the series. There is always a bit of trepidation when someone tries to extend a series as beloved as this, but surely there could be no more appropriate author than Anne Hillerman, who grew up listening to her father talk about Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee as if they were old friends.
Anne’s knowledge of Navajo country is deep, also. She still lives in Santa Fe where she grew up and she and her photographer husband published a beautiful book about the places that appear in Tony Hillerman’s books–Tony Hillerman’s Landscape. That book includes snippets from the Chee and Leaphorn mysteries set in various reservation locations as well as background information about the geology, history and culture of Navajo country.
At the Tucson Festival of Books, where Anne Hillerman appeared on several panels, she made it clear that when her father died, he did not leave sketches, outlines, unfinished manuscripts–anything of the sort for further books. She was left on her own to decide what direction to pursue.
The direction she has taken in Spider Woman’s Daughter has a definite femine twist, since she focuses on a character that Tony Hillerman had introduced, but never fully developed–Bernadette Manualito.
Bernadette has married the once-loner, Jim Chee, and moved back to Navajo country as a member of the Navajo police after working for the Border Patrol. The story starts with a bang, when Bernadette, attends a morning meeting at the Navajo Inn in Window Rock (a real Quality Inn run by the Navajo nation that is a great place to stay).
Outside the Inn, Bernadette watches powerlessly as the retired Joe Leaphorn is shot. That gives Leaphorn fans something to worry about throughout the book–will he make it? And it puts the onus of solving who shot him and why on Bernadette, who is supposed to be on leave since she’s a witness and Jim, who is supposed to be in charge of the case.
Along the way, we meet Bernadette’s mother and sister, and learn about what it is like to be a female police officer. Although the original Hillerman novels featured many strong women characters (both good and evil) there was never one as much a focus as is Bernadette in Spider Woman’s Daughter.
Anne Hillerman, who has written as a journalist and non-fiction writer in the past, steps up the task of creating a gripping plot in a way that surely would have made her father proud.
I just love the title, Spider Woman’s Daughter, with its hint at Anne’s relationship to Tony as well as reference back to Tony Hillerman’s earlier books and to the main character in this one. I have long advocated that anyone traveling in Navajo country would do well to read the Hillerman books to familiarize themselves with the local culture. That is as true of this new Hillerman book as the originals.
I particularly liked scenes at the AIRC (American Indian Research Center), based on the terrific Santa Fe resource for scholars of the southwest, SAR (School for Advanced Research). Charnell Havens and I happily used their resources when we were writing Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. The facility is not a place for the casual visitor, but if you are visiting Santa Fe, you can see the beautiful buildings and grounds in tours on Fridays.
The remaining mystery is: Will new HIllerman books be the Chee, Leaphorn and Manuelito mysteries?
Note: The book was provided by the publisher for review, which is normal operating procedure and does not influence my opinions.
Links to Amazon allow you to shop easily at the Amazon store for print, audio or electronic books , but you need to know that I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon. When you shop through my links you are supporting A Traveler’s Library. Thank you.