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.
By C.M. Wendelboe
Published by Berkley Trade
Copyright © 2011
Manny Tanno has a nice FBI Academy position in Washington D.C., but every now and again he gets pulled from the classroom to work a case, and it is usually on the Rez. Why does he get picked for the reservation cases? Because, Native Americans on the reservations don’t trust the federal government too much, so the FBI likes to take advantage of Manny’s Heritage as a full blooded Oglala Sioux. Manny was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and served there as a tribal cop before joining the FBI.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is aptly described as a place of despair trying to lift itself into dignity with the construction of a resort that will bring much needed money to the tribal coffers and thus to the community. However the high powered real estate tycoon in charge, Jason Red Cloud, has been murdered in a most native style – he is found dead on the reservation with a war club in his head. Manny’s Supervisor has decided to send him back there to solve this murder case. Quite a few problems stand in his way though, many in the community don’t trust or like him because he works for the government now, his contact with the tribal police is an old high school nemesis who is trying to make him look bad, he isn’t ready to revisit his family history (his brother was sent up for a dishonorable murder from back in his American Indian Movement days), and he has multiple people trying to kill him. Manny is going to have to uncover an intricate web of murder, deceit, and greed that goes back decades and will culminate when he finally finds Red Clouds Killer.
“Death Along the Spirit Road” is pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect much when I began this book, but when I heard comparison’s to Tony Hillerman I thought I should check it out. And Almost out of the gate you begin to see the similarities between the Manny Tanno and Willie With Horn combination and Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee; The older experienced officer who isn’t happy being back on the rez working together with the younger officer who is embracing his heritage.
Comparisons aside though, Wendelboe’s mystery is entertaining. It is packed with action and intrigue, and it leaves you guessing to the end when the truth is revealed because of one seemingly innocuous clue. While hand to hand combat and gun play don’t seem to be Manny’s forte, as his many injuries attest to, he has a way with interrogations that to me were funny, if not ingenious. “Death Along the Spirit Road” is a solid first effort with a couple of bumps but mostly triumphs, and if it is any indication of things to come I will be looking forward to the next installment.