Spider Woman's Daughter, by Anne Hillerman.
How many of you have read Tony Hillerman's mystery series, set in the beautiful arid desert region of the Four Corners? His first book, in which he introduced his main protagonist, Joe Leaphorn, was written in the early '70's. It was called The Blessing Way. Over the years, Hillerman wrote 18 books featuring Joe Leaphorn and/or Jim Chee, both Navajo Nation Policemen. The setting of northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado and Utah, was a big part of this author's books, as well as details about the culture and lore of the Navajo Nation. I loved Tony Hillerman's books and was sad when he passed away in 2008.
Anne Hillerman, Tony's daughter, tells of the questions she received from his publisher after her father's death. Were there more manuscripts, yet unpublished, featuring Leaphorn and Chee? She said she told them that there were not and the publisher was disappointed. Anne Hillerman was already a published author and journalist. Her husband is a photographer and they had written more than one book about New Mexico, their home. She decided, after talking with her mother, to see if she could continue writing about her father's characters, but with a little different focus. With her mother's blessing and her own detailed knowledge of the previous books, she wrote Spider Woman's Daughter.
This book begins with a bunch of cops eating breakfast together. The group includes Joe Leaphorn, retired police lieutenant, now a private investigator. It also includes Officer Bernadette Manualito, wife of Sergeant Jim Chee. After the meal, Manualito receives a phone call and she leaves the table to talk to the caller. Leaphorn had also indicated that he was leaving and walked to his truck outside. As Bernie watches in horror, Leaphorn is shot in the parking lot by a person in a black hoodie, who then speeds away. Bernie rushes outside, trying to remember exact details of the shooter and vehicle, and realizing that Joe Leaphorn is critically injured. It's quite the beginning.
The rest of the book relates the investigation, which the FBI becomes a part of. Jim Chee is placed in charge of the Navajo Nation Police portion of the crime solving and he is also to act as liaison with the FBI. Bernie herself, being a witness to the crime, is placed on leave and told to go home and relax. Not so much. She finds ways to help or maybe interfere, as her boss would term it, because she feels that if she'd only moved faster or looked up sooner or something, she might have altered the outcome in some way.
The group was mostly positive about Spider Woman's Daughter. Some of us had read at least a few of the previous books in the series and so, we knew Leaphorn and Chee and also Bernie. We were used to the setting and culture being a big, big part of the story. Some members had not read any of Tony Hillerman's books. It was agreed that the mystery itself was not particularly complex. However, we allowed that this was a 'first' book and hope that in future books, that might change. Most everyone was impressed with the vivid descriptions of the location and the glimpses of Navajo culture included. Some were a little weary of the long driving distances that the characters endured and that didn't seem to affect the story, other than to be mentioned. And it is true - the driving time for these officers is huge and it's talked about over and over.
One member mentioned that she was concerned when Leaphorn's cat, which Bernie was taking home to care for, was lost for a period of time. It seemed that Bernie was a little careless about the cat. I mentioned that I thought the cat was pretty 'crafty' and seemed very intelligent. I felt the cat 'planned' to get lost. By the way, the cat was OK. It turned up later.
Almost everyone said that they would try the next book in the series, Rock With Wings, which was recently published. Though we didn't feel that the daughter was quite up to the standard of the father, we're hopeful.
Next month, our group will be reading from the theme of 'books set in the South Pacific or Asia'. We're looking forward to hearing about what everyone chooses.