Review: Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman

Spider Women's Daughter by Anne HillermanFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, large print paperback, audiobook
Genre: Mystery
Series: Navajo Mysteries
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: October 1, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito witnesses the cold-blooded shooting of someone very close to her. With the victim fighting for his life, the entire squad and the local FBI office are hell-bent on catching the gunman. Bernie, too, wants in on the investigation, despite regulations forbidding eyewitness involvement. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to sit idly by, especially when her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, is in charge of finding the shooter.

Bernie and Chee discover that a cold case involving his former boss and partner, retired Inspector Joe Leaphorn, may hold the key. Digging into the old investigation, husband and wife find themselves inching closer to the truth…and closer to a killer determined to prevent justice from taking its course.

My Review:

Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito witnesses the shooting of the “legendary” retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn while she is talking on the phone with her husband, Officer Jim Chee. Bernie sees a slim white figure conceal a gun and drive away in a battered blue truck as she rushes to the aid of the fallen father figure of the Navajo Nation Police.

If the opening scene of this story isn’t a metaphor for the way that Anne Hillerman is bringing back her own late father’s evocative mystery series following the cases of Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, I’ll eat my own hat.

The blessing way by Tony HillermanInstead of following Leaphorn and Chee, with Leaphorn in the hospital in Santa Fe clinging to life, we follow Bernie and Chee, but primarily, and this is where Anne takes the series and makes it her own, we follow Bernie. This allows the author to show us a perspective on life in the Four Corners that is different from what we saw in the earlier series that started with The Blessing Way and ended with The Shape Shifter.

Although Bernie is an officer in the Navajo Nation Police, just as her husband is, she also has more traditional roles to play as her mother’s oldest daughter and as the older sister of a young woman who may be falling into alcoholism.

The case is a troubling one, and it’s one that Bernie is not supposed to be working on. Seeing a fellow officer gunned down is a traumatic experience. Feeling that if you had been just a few seconds faster you might have prevented the whole sad business leads to an endless cycle of “what ifs”.

And it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of potential suspects. Leaphorn had a long and successful career with the Navajo Nation Police before he became a private investigator. Like any good cop, he put away a lot of bad guys, any of whom might want some payback. Or the shooting might be related to one of his current investigations.

Or it might be a random cop killer.

The worst part of the whole investigation is that the person that every single officer in the Navajo Nation Police usually takes their thorniest cases to is the one man who can’t help them this time. It’s up to Bernie and Chee to discover how well the “legendary” Lieutenant’s lessons have stuck.

Escape Rating A+: Striking Leaphorn down at the beginning of Spider Woman’s Daughter was a brilliant move on the author’s part; it clearly hands the reins of the case, and the series, over to Bernie (and Anne). Even though the case turns out to be rooted in Leaphorn’s past, the perspective on solving it needs to be different and new.

There’s definitely a new sheriff in town and she’s got one hell of a mystery to solve. Bernie (and the reader) are sure from the beginning that it isn’t any of the easy suspects that the other cops go after. Figuring out who the would-be killer really is (and why they did it) takes the reader on the investigation of Bernie’s life. This one keeps everyone guessing up until the very end.

And Bernie has to juggle her two roles in a way that neither Leaphorn nor Chee ever did. Leaphorn was a skeptic about many traditional beliefs, and Chee tried to straddle two worlds, but not in the way of being sandwiched by caring for actual individuals. Bernie’s need to both be “all officer” on the job and still be “traditional daughter” for her mother is a role-split that faces women much more often than men in any culture.

I can’t help but think there is some wish fulfillment on the part of the author at the very end of the story. And I understand.

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