By Ann Snuggs
For those who have spent hours and days with the Navajo Tribal Police officers created by Tony Hillerman in his best-selling series of novels, there is hope.
Leaphorn and Chee are back in the debut novel penned by Hillerman’s daughter Anne, Spider Woman’s Daughter.
Retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn joined the still working officers at the Monday breakfast meeting at the Navajo Inn that morning. After eating and visiting he started for his truck but didn’t make it. A shooter stepped from the blue sedan parked next to the truck and shot Leaphorn in the head.
Office Bernadette Manualito had left the meeting to take a phone call from her husband and fellow officer, Jim Chee. When she heard the shot and saw her friend and mentor fall, she dropped the phone and ran, but not in time to prevent the shooter’s escape. Pressed close against him and holding his hand, she promises the lieutenant she will find his assailant and learn the reason for the attack.
That’s easier said than done.
First of all, as an eyewitness she’s on leave, not supposed to work on the case. Bernie takes offense but regulations are regulations. Captain Largo gives her the peripheral job of locating Leaphorn’s friend and housemate, Louisa, and finding and notifying family members.
Even that is a challenge. Louisa has left the house with no indication of her destination. All that’s left is a recording on the answering machine, referencing an argument she had with Joe and breaking off in mid-sentence. Leaphorn doesn’t keep a standard address book, his parents and siblings are long gone. Bernie’s chore is to find where to look.
However, Chee is put in charge of the Navajo investigation of the case - the FBI is automatically involved in this – and it’s difficult to share a house and a bed without also sharing a little information.
The trail winds into Leaphorn’s past – far and recent – and, as the lieutenant lies in CCU in a Santa Fe hospital clinging to life, Bernie and Chee hit dead end after dead end, frustration after frustration, before finding the who and why of a shooter who will let no one stand in the way of escape.
Like those of us who have lived in Hillerman’s Navajo Country for years, his daughter must have been steeped in Navajo legends and culture. She demonstrates both her writing skills and her feel for the world of the Navajo in this first novel. One might say she’s her daddy’s daughter.
Fans will be pleased with her story of familiar characters who live and breathe once more. This reviewer, for one, knows these people as well as the neighbors down the street. They are so much more than words on a page.
Anne Hillerman has a rich heritage. Her readers are blessed that she shares it with them. Here’s hoping Spider Woman’s Daughter is the first of many tales of Navajo Country from her.