Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series
I’ve read this book before. I recently read a sequel to it, Anne Hillerman’s Spider Woman’s Daughter. I knew what was going to happen, and yet I got totally wrapped up every page. Hillerman’s writing is perfectly measured, exactly the right pace and depth for each scene. The author knew his characters fully. Joe Leaphorn’s and Jim Chee’s lives, thoughts, feelings, personalities and their approaches to solving a crime are more interesting than simply finding out “whodunit.” That’s what I love about a Hillerman book. It’s never just a plot. It’s a slice of the protagonists’ lives. The emotional resonance of the story comes from Leaphorn’s inner life, the reason why he cares about the missing woman, the archaeologist whose disappearance is the center of the mystery. A grieving widower, he’s driven by his need to save someone, when the person he most wanted to save is gone.
One of the things I like about the Navajo police series is the respectful attitude toward death. The protagonists are aware of the need to be healed and made whole again after contacting violence and disharmony. A dead body is never just a thing to hang a plot on, but a person, the end of a life, the departure of a soul.
The secondary characters are complex and intense. All the events are set up with precision so nothing seems forced. I never felt (as I do with some mysteries) that the author was trying to hurry the story along. If Hillerman needed to give detail about the geology of a canyon to make a scene work, he did, and he did it so well that that reader experiences the setting as Leaphorn moves through it. The research into everything from ancient pottery and bones to the laws regulating excavation of archaeological sites is excellent. The four corners area comes alive, as always. The crisis scene, even though it is the obligatory confrontation and confession, is handled so smoothly that it’s believable, and the ending is exactly right for Leaphorn’s soul.