Review: Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman

rock with wings by anne hillermanFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Series: Navajo Mysteries #20
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date Released: May 5, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Navajo Tribal cops Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito, and their mentor, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, investigate two perplexing cases in this exciting Southwestern mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of Spider Woman’s Daughter

Doing a good deed for a relative offers the perfect opportunity for Sergeant Jim Chee and his wife, Officer Bernie Manuelito, to get away from the daily grind of police work. But two cases will call them back from their short vacation and separate them—one near Shiprock, and the other at iconic Monument Valley.

Chee follows a series of seemingly random and cryptic clues that lead to a missing woman, a coldblooded thug, and a mysterious mound of dirt and rocks that could be a gravesite. Bernie has her hands full managing the fallout from a drug bust gone wrong, uncovering the origins of a fire in the middle of nowhere, and looking into an ambitious solar energy development with long-ranging consequences for Navajo land.

Under the guidance of their mentor, retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, Bernie and Chee will navigate unexpected obstacles and confront the greatest challenge yet to their skills, commitment, and courage.

My Review:

I found myself watching the third season of Longmire at the same time that I was reading Rock with Wings. Even though Longmire is set in Wyoming, the series is filmed in New Mexico, so this is not as far off as one might think.

Hillerman’s Navajo Mysteries series is set in the Four Corners area, where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet. Much of the action in this story centers around Shiprock, New Mexico and the lonely monadnock from which it takes its name.

Shiprock - Tse Bit'a'i
Shiprock – Tse Bit’a’i

Ship Rock, the geological feature, is the “rock with wings” of the story. Monadnock turns out to be the name for what’s left of a volcano after the land around it wears away.

There are lots of monadnocks in nearby Monument Valley, where the rest of this story takes place.

But enough about the geography, what about the story?

In Rock with Wings, married Navajo Tribal Police Officers Jim Chee and Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito spend much of the story apart, dealing with family issues in the wake of an aborted vacation attempt. They thought they’d be spending a week with Jim’s cousin Paul in Monument Valley.

Instead Bernie rushes home to deal with yet another one of her younger sister’s arrests, and Jim is stuck, not just because he agreed to help his cousin with the start of his tourist business, but also because he agreed to help the local Navajo Police office out for a few days while they are stretched thin dealing with a Hollywood crew filming in the Valley.

Instead of a vacation, Jim ends up working in the place where the classic film Stagecoach was filmed, in the middle of a Hollywood created zombie apocalypse. He starts out hunting for a missing woman, and trips over an unauthorized burial, complete with bone fragments. It looks like a publicity stunt for the movie, but too many people involved with the production seem to have more to hide than an ill-advised and illegal grave. Unless there’s a fresh body in it.

Bernie, back at home, also finds herself back at work when her sister gets out of jail and goes back to help care for their aging mother. This endless series of crises is a gift that keeps on giving Bernie headaches, but there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable, and reasonably affordable solution.

But Bernie has a case of her own. In the middle of a major drug operation, Bernie pulls over a car filled with one very nervous driver. The guy is so nervous that he offers Bernie $500 and a rifle to make the traffic stop go away. Instead, she arrests the guy, only to discover that there isn’t anything to discover. No drugs, no other weapons, no dead body in the trunk – just some boxes of dirt and a case that the local FBI agents make disappear. Along with the driver.

Jim’s unauthorized grave in Monument Valley and Bernie’s dirt smuggler should not be connected. And they mostly aren’t. But they also kind of are, and not just because both Bernie and Jim use their need for a bit of assistance in both cases to get the Legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn back to his computer providing them with his own prodigious investigative instincts and decades of knowledge of the area.

It turns out that Jim and Bernie will need all the help they can get to solve this set of interlocking and very puzzling, crimes.

Spider Women's Daughter by Anne HillermanEscape Rating A-: On the one hand, it was terrific that this case got Joe Leaphorn at least partially back in the saddle after his near-fatal gunshot at the beginning of Spider Woman’s Daughter (reviewed here). Leaphorn’s shooting is still haunting Bernie – she can’t help but think that if she’d been just a couple of seconds faster she might have prevented it. As the entire Navajo community respects Leaphorn, everyone that Jim or Bernie run into asks after Leaphorn and wishes him well.

But Leaphorn was shot in the head, and his rehabilitation is taking a while. He still can’t speak, but when Bernie rearms him with his computer, he’s able to do research, provide insight, and start to get back in the game. His sometimes cryptic advice provides just the right spark to keep Jim and Bernie on the right track without his taking over either of their cases.

This is a story where Jim and Bernie spend most of the story apart, investigating separately. They aren’t used to being separated, and aren’t used to not having the other available to bounce ideas off of. Because of the geography of the Four Corners region, they truly are separate – cell phone coverage is so sporadic that even the instant communication of the 21st century is usually not available.

It’s damn hard in our era of online-all-the-time for an author to create a reasonable excuse for why people can’t just whip out their cell phones and make their problems disappear, but this one definitely works.

Jim’s case starts in Monument Valley, where his search for a missing woman finds too much – the woman and a grave on Navajo land, along with some campers who are camping out where they shouldn’t be.

As the investigation into the illegal gravesite keeps getting deeper and deeper, Jim finds himself taking a hard look at the movie company filming out in the Valley. While they are bringing much needed dollars to the region, they are also bringing more than their fair share of trouble. And Jim Chee, as is typical for him, refuses to take the simple and easy explanation that the grave was just a publicity stunt. There are too many people on the set that keep dodging him and his questions.

And then the dead bodies start turning up.

Bernie is home near Shiprock, juggling her responsibilities as her mother’s oldest daughter with her duties as a cop. But she can’t get the case of the nervous dirt smuggler out of her head. And she’s right not to.

Bernie’s predicament showcases a conflict that plagues women much more than it does men, and not just in traditional societies. She wants to take care of her mother – who admittedly doesn’t believe she needs taking care of. However, Bernie sees where the old and the new worlds conflict, in that she knows that no matter how responsible she is, or how much she helps, she can’t keep her younger sister on the straight and narrow. If Darleen continues to hang out with the wrong crowd and drink and get herself arrested, there is no way another person can stop her from continuing down the road she’s on. Darleen has to decide not to be an alcoholic for herself.

And Bernie’s job is every bit as important to her as her family. She finds herself often second guessing her choices about having to ask for time off to deal with her family issues. She’s all too aware that the male officers have sisters or wives who are handling those traditional responsibilities for them, where she has to juggle both.

In the end, Bernie saves not only herself but also an old man who becomes the target of a crazed activist. Her police work resolves all the crime-related riddles, including the ones that Chee has turned up over in Monument Valley. It is telling that her family issues have no clear resolution, only more problems to be solved.

Police work may be complicated but the solutions are often clear-cut. Family is just plain messy.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

A Baker’s Dozen of the Best Books of 2013

2013 blockAs 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back and attempt to decide which books were the best of the year.

OK, so this list is the best of my year. Why not? Everyone else is doing it!

But seriously, it’s both a surprise and a delight to look back and see which books got one of the rare A+ ratings. Or even just an A. (Along with the discovery that I need to do a better job of tagging to make them easier to find.)

There aren’t a lot of romances on this list. Not because I didn’t read some good ones this year, but because, well “reasons” as Cass says. Mostly because I do a separate list of the Best Ebook Romances for Library Journal every year, and also recap that list here at Reading Reality. So romance gets pretty much covered.

And speaking of Cass, she contributed her trademark snark to this list. Along with a dose of draconic awesomesauce.

These are the books that stuck with me this year. Sometimes to the point where I was still telling people about them months later, or where I am haunting NetGalley, Edelweiss or the author’s website looking for news of the next book in the series or their next book, period.

Cass’s thoughts on her faves are very definitely hers. And her picks probably won’t surprise anyone who has seen her dragon shoes. (Note from Cass: Do you want to see my dragon shoes?! They are amazing!)

Whatever your choices were for this or any other year, I hope you enjoyed every single page of them!

Spider Women's Daughter by Anne HillermanSpider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman (A+ Review).  This is a case where life parallels art in a manner that is fitting and poignant. In the story, Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernie Manuelito picks up the case after retired “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn is gunned down in front of her outside a local diner. In real life, Anne Hillerman picks up the case of continuing her father Tony Hillerman’s mystery series by changing protagonists, using a female officer sandwiched between conflicting roles to solve the mystery of who shot the man she loves as an honorary father.


How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyHow the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (A+ Review) This was simply stunning, and there’s no other word to describe it. The light gets in through our broken places, and that’s what this 9th book in Penny’s Inspector Gamache series explores, the broken places in every single character involved. These are mysteries, but Gamache is not a detective who solves crimes by examing forensics; he solves crimes by studying people.

Imager’s Battalion (A Review) and Antiagon Fire (A Review) by L.E. Modesitt Jr. One of the things that I have loved about Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio has been his main characters. Both in the original trilogy (Imager, Imager’s Challenge and Imager’s Intrigue) and in this second series, we have a fantasy hero who is a grown up but still has to face the coming-into-his-power scenario. The women in the series are strong and resourceful in their own right, and the political challenges and machinations are never-ending but still make sense. I just plain like these people and can never wait to read more of their adventures. His protagonists make things happen without needing to be king or princeling. Fantastic.

Bronze Gods by A.A. AguirreBronze Gods by A.A. Aguirre (A Review) I just swallowed this one whole and came out the other side begging for more (which is coming, see tomorrow’s post). Bronze Gods is a masterful blend of steampunk, urban fantasy, mystery and police procedural, tied together with some truly awesome worldbuilding and the fantastic partnership of two characters who need each other to remain whole.  This one blew me away.

Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest (A Review) If Bronze Gods is steampunk as urban fantasy, then Fiddlehead is steampunk as epic. Fiddlehead is the culmination of Priest’s long-running Clockwork Century alternate history steampunk epic, and it’s a doozy. She started with poisonous gas knocking Seattle back to the stone age in Boneshaker, and rippling that event into an endless U.S. Civil  War. With a reason for zombies to be part of the mix. Fiddlehead brings it all to roaring conclusion, and almost aligns history back to the world as we know it. Epic alternate history.

Garden of Stones by Mark T BarnesThe Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes (A Review) This one blew me away. Library Journal sends me books to review, and it’s hit or miss. This was one that absolutely surprised and delighted me. It is epic fantasy, and the world is not just complex, but the reader starts in the middle. There’s no gentle introduction. You feel that this place is ancient and has eons of history, as do all of the characters. It’s immersive and amazing. If you like your fantasy on the complicated side, with lots of betrayals, The Garden of Stones is a treat.

Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football by Rich Cohen (A Review) These are not the kind of monsters I usually read about, and this was not the kind of review I usually write. But the 1985 Bears were my team, and I’ve never been able to explain why that year was so damn much fun to anyone else. This book does it. And at the same time, I can’t watch a game now without thinking about this book, and what it has to say about CTE and the high cost of playing the game we all loved to watch.

The Story Guy by Mary Ann RiversThe Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers (A Review) This is the one carryover from the Best Ebook Romances list, because it was so good that I couldn’t leave it out. The Story Guy was Mary Ann Rivers debut story, and it was an absolute winner. What makes it so good is that the issues that have to be overcome in this story are real; there are no billionaires or fantastically gorgeous Hollywood types in this tale, just an accountant and a librarian (go us!) who have real-world roadblocks to get past to reach a happy ending, if they can.

The Grove by Jean Johnson (A Review) This one is in Jean’s fantasy romance series, the Guardians of Destiny. And that series is a loose followup to her Sons of Destiny series. I’ve read both, and they are just tremendously fun. The fantasy worldbuilding is terrific, the romance is hot, and her heroines and heroes are always equal. No alpha-holes and no doormats need apply. (Her military science fiction series, Theirs Not to Reason Why, is also marvelous!)

The Human Division by John ScalziThe Human Division by John Scalzi (A- Review) Last but absolutely not least, John Scalzi’s return to his Old Man’s War series. Old Man’s War is one of my favorite books ever, and I pretty much shove it at anyone who even hints that they like SF and haven’t read it. So anything new in the OMW universe is automatically worth a read for me. The Human Division took the story in the new directions that followed from the end of The Last Colony, but left LOTS of unanswered questions. There was quite a bit of Scalzi’s trademark humor, but this is not intended as a funny book like Redshirts. I think this story is going to go to some dark places before it ends. But it’s awesome.

Honorable Mention: Clean by Alex Hughes (A+ Review) I adored this urban fantasy set in a post-tech wars dystopian future. Her flawed hero reminded me so much of the version of Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, but her messed-up Atlanta looked like a bad version of a place we could all too easily get to from here. The ONLY reason it didn’t make the “Best of 2013” list is that I’m late to the party. Clean was published in 2012.

Contributions from Cass:

natural history of dragons by marie brennanA Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (5 Star Review) because it was THE LITERARY EMBODIMENT OF DRACONIC PERFECTION. There is no more amazing depiction of dragons out there. It easily soared above my previous Dragon Favorites, and utterly crushed the Dragon Posers people are always trying to torment me with.

UPDATE FROM CASS: I invented a new rating scale for this one. I did not give it a mere 5/5 stars – but rather 15 stars. Nothing Marlene read this year hit that level of awesome. Come back sometime in February (March?) and see my feelings on the sequel. 

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams (4 Star Review). Though I was a wee bit nervous when, at the WorldCon Mad Science Panel, certain contributors had some suspiciously specific ideas about how to rain mayhem and destruction down onto the audience. (Someone give Seanan a Hugo just to distract her from setting off an international incident. Please?)

parasite by mira grantParasite by Mira Grant (4.5 Star Review) Parasites freak me right the fuck out. There is nothing more horrifying to me than a society where MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS tell everyone to ingest a goddamn tapeworm as a cure-all. Could I see the sheep doing it? Yes. Which only amps the terror up.

So that’s our list for 2013. What’s on your list?

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.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.