Reunited by a grave robber and a corpse, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is trying to determine the identity of a murder victim, while Officer Jim Chee is arresting Smithsonian conservator Henry Highhawk for ransacking the sacred bones of his ancestors.
But with each peeled-back layer, it becomes shockingly clear that these two cases are mysteriously connected - and that others are pusuing Highhawk, with lethal intentions. And the search for answers to a deadly puzzle is pulling Leaphorn and Chee into the perilous arena of superstition, ancient ceremony, and living gods.
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Navajo Nation lives
All of Tony Hillerman's books about the Navajo land are good. This one brings Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee to the Nation's capital to find out why a body appears in Navajo Land that traces back to Washington D.C. Neither are happy to be away from the Sacred Mountains. The narrator does okay but he isn't George Guidall. I heard most of these stories read by Guidall and it really spoils you. The story is very good . . . the narrator leaves much to be desired. It's hard to tell who is talking because most of the voices sound the same . . . maybe a southern drawl but the sound is the same.
We're Not in New Mexico Anymore!
What made this book enjoyable beyond the story itself was the narration by Christian Baskous. His voice characterizations are amazing. No matter how many different people appear in the narrative, Mr. Baskous creates a distinct and memorable voice for each one. I love this guy. He really makes the familiar stories come alive in totally new ways. This novel was a real departure from the usual Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn stories. Most of the action takes place in Washington D.C., not New Mexico, and I found that I missed the long drives through the dramatic landscapes of the Southwest that typically fill up the narrative in Hillerman's novels. Having the boys from the Rez solving crime in the Big East was a weird paradigm shift. The book was as good as any of his others, of course, and we did get to see Janet Pete at her flashy, glamorous best in D.C. society. Grave robbers and terrorists make a nice showing in this one - we even get a maladjusted, emotionally damaged hit man stalking the investigation. I credit the excellent narration with bridging the gap between the new territory explored in this story and the more familiar expressions of tribal religious practice and philosophy we have come to expect from Hillerman's novels.
Jim Chee is usually my favorite character in Hillerman's novels. He is the most dynamic of the regulars - Joe Leaphorn reminds me a little too much of my dad - and I find that his struggle to live in harmony with the modern world AND his tribal heritage causes me to admire him quite a bit.
So, I like all the characters performed by Christian Baskous, as I mentioned earlier. I especially liked how he handled the odd character of Leroy Fleck, the strange hit man/stalker in the novel. We see his twisted, corrupted little world up close and personal in a couple of long, intense chapters. Mr. Baskous expresses this guy's warped thoughts really, really well. Check out Chapter 16 for a freaky tour through Fleck's inner world. It is not to be missed.
Yes. Spoiler Alert: Janet decides to come home to New Mexico with Jim. Big Romantic Deal, even if the romance is so very discreetly touched on that you might even miss it right there at the end of the book. What can I say? I really think Janet is the right girl for Jim.
I did think it was weird to have so much of the action happened outside the usual Navajo stomping grounds. I think the next novel, The Fallen Man, returns the action to its rightful place on the Rez. The departure was ok, but I am really glad Hillerman didn't decide to have Jim move to D.C. to be with Janet. I don't think either one of us can imagine him anywhere but home!