Harper, 2013, 301 pages
Anne Hillerman, the talented daughter of best-selling author Tony Hillerman, continues his popular Leaphorn and Chee series with Spider Woman's Daughter, a Navajo Country mystery, filled with captivating lore, startling suspense, bold new characters, vivid color, and rich Southwestern atmosphere.
Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manualito witnesses the cold-blooded shooting of someone very close to her. With the victim fighting for his life, the entire squad and the local FBI office are hell-bent on catching the gunman. Bernie, too, wants in on the investigation, despite regulations forbidding eyewitness involvement. But that doesn't mean she's going to sit idly by, especially when her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, is in charge of finding the shooter.
Bernie and Chee discover that a cold case involving his former boss and partner, retired Inspector Joe Leaphorn, may hold the key. Digging into the old investigation, husband and wife find themselves inching closer to the truth...and closer to a killer determined to prevent justice from taking its course.
I have written before about my (going on thirty-years now) love of Tony Hillerman's Navajo mysteries. Tony Hillerman wrote eighteen books about Navajo detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, before he passed away in 2008, and I read every one of them.
So I was reaaaaally skeptical about his daughter picking up his pen and continuing the series. Kids of famous authors who pick up their old man's work and continue it (e.g., Brian Herbert and Christopher Tolkien) often seem to be milking a cash cow rather than giving homage to their father's legacy.
But, I had too many years invested in Leaphorn and Chee not to at least give their new adventure a try.
Right away, in the opening chapter, Leaphorn gets shot. (Yeah, the blurb above plays cagey about who it is who gets shot, but come on, it's on page 3!) So I'm wondering just how big Anne's balls are - is she going to kill off her father's main character in her first book?
Leaphorn spends most of the book in the hospital, leaving his younger (not so young now) protege Jim Chee and his wife Bernadette Manualito as the main characters, which was pretty much the pattern of Tony's last few books. Bernadette, who was introduced relatively late in the series but took on an increasingly large role in the last few books, is the chief protagonist here, as she does most of the legwork, with the subplots mostly involving her family troubles and her relationship with Jim Chee. There were a lot of things that struck me about this book as stereotypically "female author," but not in a bad way, just that it was clearly more centered on feminine characters and concerns.
The actual detective work was fairly routine, and the writing was on a par with her father's last few books (which, frankly, were not his best). Anne Hillerman seems to be trying not to diverge too far from her father's style, and if I hadn't known it was her daughter writing this one, I might have believed that Tony had written one more book that was published posthumously, with clear signs that it had been rough and in need of some revision. But still a satisfying enough read for fans of Leaphorn and Chee.
I can't say I have the same enthusiasm about one of my favorite series, which was already long in the tooth and showing its age, now that it's being continued by the original author's daughter, but she did a serviceable job with her first attempt, certainly nothing that disgraces her father's legacy, and I will probably keep reading the books she puts out, unless she screws them up terribly.
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