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The last of Hillerman's Navajo Mysteries is a tepid coda to the series, but it was still a great series.

The Shape Shifter

Harper, 2006, 288 pages

Since his retirement from the Navajo Tribal Police, Joe Leaphorn has occasionally been enticed to return to work by former colleagues who seek his help when they need to solve a particularly puzzling crime. They ask because Leaphorn, aided by officers Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito, always delivers.

But this time the problem is with an old case of Joe's--his "last case," unsolved, is one that continues to haunt him. And with Chee and Bernie just back from their honeymoon, Leaphorn is pretty much on his own.

The original case involved a priceless, one-of-a-kind Navajo rug supposedly destroyed in a fire. Suddenly, what looks like the same rug turns up in a magazine spread. And the man who brings the photo to Leaphorn's attention has gone missing. Leaphorn must pick up the threads of a crime he'd thought impossible to untangle. Not only has the passage of time obscured the details, but it also appears that there's a murderer still on the loose.

Only a dedicated fan would read all eighteen books, but I was a dedicated fan.Collapse )

Verdict: Tony Hillerman's last novel was not his best, but it's a satisfying conclusion to a series that went on for almost 40 years. The Navajo Mysteries will always be one of my favorite series, and Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are like old friends to me. This review was really a review of the entire series, because The Shape Shifter is at best an average entry, but I hope it will entice you to at least try some of Hillerman's earlier books.

Also by Tony Hillerman: My reviews of The Sinister Pig and Skeleton Man.

My complete list of book reviews.
Diamonds and DNA in a cold case on Navajo lands.

Skeleton Man

HarperTorch, 2004, 368 pages

In 1956, an airplane crash left the remains of 172 passengers scattered among the majestic cliffs of the Grand Canyon - including an arm attached to a briefcase containing a fortune in gems. Half a century later, one of the missing diamonds has reappeared... and the wolves are on the scent.

Former Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is coming out of retirement to help exonerate a slow, simple kid accused of robbing a trade post. Billy Tuve claims he received the diamond he tried to pawn from a mysterious old man in the canyon, and his story has attracted the dangerous attention of strangers to the Navajo lands - one more interested in a severed limb than the fortune it was attached to; another willing to murder to keep lost secrets hidden. But nature herself may prove the deadliest adversary, as Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee follow a puzzle - and a killer - down into the dark realm of Skeleton Man.

Not terrible, but will make you long for the old Hillerman.Collapse )

Verdict: Reading Skeleton Man is kind of like checking in to visit old friends who've become banal and boring. You still want to see them every now and then, but you miss the good times. I would urge anyone to read Tony Hillerman's Navajo mysteries - but start with the early ones. The later ones reach a point where you'd only read them if you are already a fan.

Also by Tony Hillerman: My review of The Sinister Pig.

My complete list of book reviews.
One-line summary: Leaphorn and Chee are back and getting long in the tooth, like this series, in a non-thrilling non-mystery involving drug smuggling and theft of oil royalties from Indian lands.

HarperCollins, 2003, 240 pages

The victim, well dressed but stripped of identification, is found at the edge of the vast Jicarilla Apache natural gas field just inside the jurisdiction of the Navajo Tribal Police, facing Sergeant Jim Chee with a complex puzzle.

Why did the Washington office of the FBI snatch custody of this case from its local agents and call it a hunting accident? On a level nearer to Chee's heart, did the photographs Bernie Manuelito took on an exotic game ranch near the Mexican border reveal something connected with this crime?

It is, finally, "Legendary Lieutenant" Joe Leap-horn, now retired, who connects the lines on a dusty old map to find the answers -- and the Sinister Pig -- among the great scimitar-horned oryx grazing on the historic old Tuttle Ranch.

The venerable series about Navajo detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee enters its cozy twilight. A few spoilers as to events that happen earlier in the series.Collapse )

Verdict: This is not the best place to start in the series; it's too self-referential and features too many characters whom readers are expected to already be familiar with. This is a book written to satisfy existing fans, not bring in new ones. I highly recommend Hillerman to any fan of mysteries, especially if you have an interest in the Southwest or Navajo culture, but start with the earlier books; The Sinister Pig is only for completists.

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