These books are so good. I remember when Hillerman died a few years ago and I was sad because these books are so beautifully well-written and compelling.
This is the first in the series. These books follow the adventures of Joe Leaphorn and/or Jim Chee, Navajo tribal police officers on the reservation in Arizona/New Mexico. This book follows Joe Leaphorn, the older of the two officers.
At the beginning of the book one of his old college friends, an anthropology professor, is in town for the summer to investigate rumors of witchcraft on the reservation. These witches are referred to as “wolves” or a “Navajo wolf” and are greatly feared.
Leaphorn is looking for a young man who injured someone in a bar fight and spreads the word that if he doesn’t turn himself in, Leaphorn will go after him into the depths of the wilderness. The next day the body of the young man turns up, killed in a manner that suggests witchcraft.
This sends the anthropologist and his assistant into the middle of nowhere to track the wolf. One night the assistant doesn’t return, leaving an inexplicable note signed with the wrong name. That night, the wolf comes to the campsite. The anthropologist and the missing assistant’s fiancee who had come looking for him escape the trap the wolf had set for them, but along the way they find the assistant’s car, with the assistant’s dead body in it.
The wolf tracks them down and tries to force them to write similar notes, but an injury the anthropologist sustained in his escape buys them time, so they’re moved to an abandoned pueblo, giving Leaphorn enough time to connect the dots and come save them.
I love these books and think they’re so thoughtful and clever.