Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Leaphorn Chee & Manuelito #26
Published by Harper on April 25, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Fossil harvesting, ancient lore, greed, rejected love and murder combine in this gripping new installment of New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman's Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series.
An unexpected death on a lonely road outside of Utah's Bears Ears National Park raises questions for Navajo Tribal Police officers Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito. Why would a seasoned outdoorsman and well-known paleontologist freeze to death within walking distance of his car? A second death brings more turmoil. Who is the unidentified man killed during a home invasion where nothing seems to have been taken? Why was he murdered?
The Bears Ears area, at the edge of the Navajo Nation, is celebrated for its abundance of early human habitation sites and the discovery of unique fossils which revolutionized the scientific view of how early animals dealt with their changing world. For Chee and Bernie, the area glows with geological interest and spiritual insight. But their visit to this achingly beautiful place is disrupted by a current of unprecedented violence that sweeps them both into danger.
An illicit business, a fossilized jaw bone, hints of witchcraft, and a mysterious disappearance during a blizzard and to the peril. It will take all of Manuelito's and Chee's experience, skill, and intuition to navigate the threats that arise beneath the twin buttes that give Bears Ears its name and to see justice served.
In its initial incarnation, the Leaphorn & Chee series was a creation of the late Tony Hillerman, who took the tried-and-true concept of a series featuring mismatched investigative partners and set it in the place that he knew and loved, the Navajo Reservation at the four corners where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet. His often-at-loggerheads detectives were the young and idealistic Jim Chee and the older, more experienced and more cynical Joe Leaphorn.
The initial series ended when its author passed away, and was much missed.
Missed so much, in fact, that Tony Hillerman’s daughter Anne revived the series with Spider Woman’s Daughter in 2013, adding Navajo Nation Police officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito to the series in order to give Jim Chee a new partner – and romantic interest – in the wake of ‘Legendary Lieutenant’ Joe Leaphorn’s retirement. When Leaphorn is shot and very nearly killed in the opening of Spider Woman’s Daughter, the torch of the series literally passes from his or Chee’s perspective to Bernie’s.
As the series has continued through the following seven more books, the investigations have continued but the investigative tensions between Chee and Manuelito have shifted in ways that give this entry in the series much of its heart even as the case they have wandered into the middle of threatens not just their lives but the lives of many in the harsh, beautiful, protected and sacred area named Shash Jaa’ by the Navajo and Bears’ Ears National Monument by (U.S.) presidential proclamation.
Escape Rating A-: In case it’s not clear, I’ve loved this entire series from my first read – actually a listen – thirty years ago with The Blessing Way. This latest entry in the series was absolutely no exception.
Part of what I enjoy about the series is the way that it explores – not just a compelling mystery set in a beautiful part of the country told from the perspective of someone who is familiar with it – but the way that it takes the usual trope of the push-pull between two investigators with two different approaches to the work and layers it not just with the tensions that occur in a romantic partnership in the same branch of the same work – because both of things have been done before and done well.
The aspect of the relationship that draws me into this series is the difference in Chee’s and Manuelito’s responses to the traditions of their people. Both of them believe strongly in those traditions – as Joe Leaphorn did not – which often put Leaphorn and Chee at odds. Jim Chee frequently, often and repeatedly considered leaving the police and training as a Hatááłii, a practitioner of traditional healing ceremonies. The trip that sends Chee and Manuelito to Bears’ Ears includes an opportunity for Chee to explore this possibility yet again.
But it is, and has always been, a choice for him. Bernie, as a daughter and a sister, is often caught between the demands that tradition places on her because of those roles, and her career as a police officer. For her, it is never a serious choice – she just has to deal with constantly being pulled in multiple directions as best she can.
Both Chee and Manuelito enter this book at a crossroads – a crossroads that affects their marriage and their pursuit of this case. Which turn out to be rather strangely parallel, as both situations are about looking inside oneself and determining the direction of one’s life, even though the case is, on the surface at least, about greed.
But the people who are caught up in it are motivated by something else altogether no matter how twisted their interpretation of it might be. And in seeing how twisted they have become in the course of the investigation, it helps Chee and Bernie figure out how to deal with the issues that have arisen between them.
As always, a satisfactory resolution to both the personal and the professional, although not a permanent one – as there never is. I expect something equally fascinating on both parts of that equation in the next book in the series, hopefully in time for my birthday next year!