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May 19, 2013 / schulerbooks

Spider Woman’s Daughter, by Anne Hillerman


“I”m getting too old for all this stuff,” says Joe Leaphorn — retired Navajo Police Lieutenant. A few minutes later he is gunned down, right outside a diner full of Navajo Police, and the only witness to the crime is Officer Bernadette Manuelito, the wife of Leaphorn’s former subordinate and occasional partner, Sgt. Jim Chee.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the venerable man’s tough enough to survive being shot through the head. Unfortunately for Bernie, she’s a witness to the crime, and therefore shouldn’t be working the case.

Of course, that doesn’t stop her from poking into it, both with and without her husband. But once the direct trail of the shooter’s vehicle becomes more than a little obscured by multiple drivers and uncertain motives, and the FBI gets involved, Bernie has to look beyond the immediate crime to find answers — and has to do it under the guise of helping a possibly-dying friend get his affairs in order, rather than as a Tribal Police Officer.

With the only person who could positively identify the shooter fighting for his own life, Bernie and Jim must assemble the shards of this broken pot with care. One wrong move could alert the killer, so this tangled web must be carefully unwoven, strand by strand.

The answer may lie in a project that Leaphorn was working on — helping an arts council vet their collection of Native American pottery for an overseas client. Or maybe the mysterious exit of his long-time lover, away at a “conference” she doesn’t want to talk about over the phone.

Or has an old enemy from one of Leaphorn and Chee’s many cases come back to haunt him and take revenge..?

Fans of the late Tony Hillerman may not welcome another hand writing Chee and Leaphorn, even if it is his daughter. Indeed, this isn’t what one would consider a typical mystery by him; no supernatural crime masks or competes with the mundane one, for example, and superstition does not get in the way of its solving. And while it shares his concern for the culture and well-being of Native Americans, any number of authors could provide a similar feel.

But long-time devotees of his writing should give Anne Hillerman’s voice a chance to win them over. If they do, they will find Spider Woman’s Daughter to be a good mystery, full of the honest and hopeful exploration of Native American life that Tony Hillerman was known for. They will also find Anne Hillerman to be a worthy author in her own right, and as good of a chronicler of his characters as we will find anywhere; even if the traditional formula has been altered, somewhat, she continues in the spirit of his works, which is what is truly important, here.

Spider Woman’s Daughter comes out in October of 2013.


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