When Tony Hillerman died in 2008, fans of his mystery series about two Navajo tribal policemen were crushed. The eighteen books of the Leaphorn-Chee series millions of copies in more than three decades before Hillerman passed from pulmonary disease two years after his last novel.
After a gap of five years, daughter Anne Hillerman picked up where Dad left of in Spider Woman's Daughter. Fans will be happy that she retains her father's sensitivities and the Native American flavor of his stories. She does, however, feature a different character.
There will always be what-ifs for Navajo Tribal Policewoman Bernie Manuelito: what if she'd gotten there ten seconds earlier? What if she'd run a little faster? She'll never know: all that's certain is she saw Joe Leaphorn shot down in cold blood. All she could do was was describe the shooter's hoodie and the car he drove away in
On administrative leave while her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, heads up the investigation, Bernie still worries at the case like a dog with a bone. On a visit to Leaphorn in the hospital, she follows up on the insurance case the retired cop consulted on for a Santa Fe museum. Meanwhile, back on the reservation, Chee's team are following up the few leads they ahve on the shooter and the car; dead ends all.
The man shot was perhaps the most revered of all Navajo Tribal policemen, the Legendary Lieutenant: Chee and everyone else on the squad will not rest until the shooter is behind bars.
Anne Hillerman's first Navajo Police novel is like a breath of fresh air through a window closed tight for seven years. She's clearly inherited her father's eye for detail and storytelling gift, as well as his respect for the Blessing Way and other traditions of the Dine.
There are, of course, differences, one of which is that a lot of the action in Spider Woman's Daughter occurs place in Santa Fe (including restaurant reviews - Hillerman's last publication was a dining guide to Santa Fe). Tony's stories often found Leaphorn or Chee at lonely trading posts and empty buttes instead of in populated areas. Another variation is the time Bernie spends with her mother and younger sister, which feels like filler. Hillerman apparently intends to carry on this thread in future novels, since she leaves the family's problems unresolved. As far as Bernie and Chee, well, they're newlyweds: need I say more? I did find the somewhat lecherous young FBI agent off-putting, though
Tony Hillerman's mysteries weren't generally difficult for readers to solve, but Anne's villain and the villain's motive seemed even more transparent than usual, even at his/her first appearance Readers will hope that through practice, Anne HIllerman will be better able to develop red herrings and mysterious twisties. If you read that last to mean I expect her to continue the Manuelito-Leaphorn-Chee series, you're correct. This first one may not be great, but it definitely shows promise: three and a half stars.