Thursday, July 12, 2012

This is the second of Tony Hillerman's celebrated books featuring Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police. Later, Leaphorn would be assisted by a younger officer, Jim Chee, but this book, which won The Edgar Award, belongs to Leaphorn alone.

A young Zuni Indian boy, Ernesto Cata, disappears while training for his important role in an upcoming tribal ceremony. A large pool of blood suggests that something very bad has happened to Ernesto, and Joe Leaphorn is assigned to fine Ernesto's best friend, George Bowlegs, a Navajo. George has disappeared and the authorities believe that he might have important information about the fate that has befallen Ernesto. It is even possible, they believe, that George might have been responsible for the crime committed against Ernesto.

In his pursuit of the boy, Leaphorn crosses paths with George's alcoholic father, a group of hippies in a rather peculiar commune, and a determined archeologist who's working on a dig that may significantly change what we know about early man in what is now the southwestern United States. Along the way, Leaphorn reveals and in return discovers a great deal about the cultural and religious traditions of both the Navajo and the Zuni peoples.

This is among the most unique crime fiction series of the last fifty years. Hillerman, who died in 2008, wrote seventeen books featuring Leaphorn and Chee. The mysteries themselves are always captivating, but what set the series apart was the window it provided into the culture of the Indian people of the Southwest and the way in which Hillerman captured the physical setting in which these people live. This is truly a fascinating book in an excellent series

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