By Tony Hillerman
Published by Harper & Row
Copyright © 1990
Chee and Leaphorn investigate a cop killer in the Navajo Nation where the killer might just be a victim as well.
Officer Jim Chee is on his way to Red Rock to meet a fellow officer Delbert Nez for a coffee break. However, Nez thinks that he has spotted the vandal that he has been after for awhile. Chee thinks about giving him back up, but Nez doesn’t sound like he needs it. When Nez doesn’t show up at Red Rock Chee gets worried and finds him shot and burning in his patrol car. Risking his own safety, he pulls Nez from the vehicle and starts down the road only to find who he believes to be the killer, Ashie Pinto, an 80 year old Navajo Shaman who is staggering around in the middle of the road with a bottle of whiskey in his hand and a pistol in his belt.
While Chee is almost certain that this is his man, his friend and newly hired public defender, Janet Pete doesn’t believe Pinto is guilty. In addition, Pinto’s family doesn’t believe he could have done it either, and they urge Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, to whom they are loosely related to investigate. Pinto is making all of this necessary of course because he refuses to speak of the event, he will neither confirm nor deny his guilt. Following two separate paths Chee and Leaphorn will find themselves in the middle of a case that proves to have historical and monetary significance.
Hillerman is the master of Native American Mysteries. He meshes Navajo tradition and lore into his stories so confidently and seamlessly that the casual reader can only assume that they are accurate. I love his protagonists. Hillerman writes us individuals with strengths and weaknesses and contradictory personality traits and actions. They are not portrayed as super human, it is their intellect and knowledge of their peoples ways that makes them so interesting and good at their jobs. “Coyote Waits” is a fine example of Hillerman’s art of storytelling and understanding of logic.
I was first introduced to Hillerman’s work by way of the PBS Mysteries series that featured Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn which were fine films. From there I had to read some of his books. I have read “Skinwalkers” and now “Coyote Waits.” I won’t devour all of his books one after another, but whenever I’m looking for a good mystery, in an interesting setting, with strong three dimensional characters I will look for Tony Hillerman.