I’m finally back to this series–my library inexplicably only had it in hard copy until recently, when they got the e-version, and since I do most of my reading on my phone these days, I paused the series.
I love these books. They almost make me forget how much I hate the heat and dryness of the desert.
This book begins with Jim Chee and his girlfriend with some other people, sitting on the roof of a house, watching a ceremonial dance. This dance comes from a different tribe, so they don’t really understand all of it. One of the components is a group called “sacred clowns” who act like clowns but are used to show how silly and bumbling and flawed humans are compared to the gods, who are also portrayed in the dance.
By the end, one of the clowns has been killed.
This appears to tie to an earlier murder at a school. A popular shop teacher was killed in his classroom, and silver and other things used in shop were found in the home of a local drunk who knew him. Case closed, but it doesn’t feel right. If he’d killed the teacher and stolen silver, he’d have sold the silver immediately.
The two murders are connected–the nephew of the killed dancer was friends with someone in the shop teacher’s class, was seen at the school that night, and has gone missing.
Chee and his boss have to figure out why someone would kill a clown dancer, who had no enemies as far as anyone knew, and how that connects to a well-loved and generous teacher at the local school.
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.