When two young boys disappear, one of them leaving a pool of blood behind, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police finds himself not only tracking a ruthless and brutal killer but caught up in the intricate mysteries of the Zuni religion as well. For the dead boy was to have played a key role in an important ritual of the Zuni people. An added complication in the investigation and search is the missing boys' interest in an archeological dig that seems to be on the brink of proving a controversial theory. And the FBI's blind certainty that it's all related to a small hippy commune's drug dealing doesn't exactly help either. Leaphorn patiently tracks the murderer into the desert to a terrifying confrontation...
- Edgar Awards (Edgar Allan Poe Awards)
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October 05, 2004
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Excerpt from Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman
Sunday, November 30, 5:18 P.M.
SHULAWITSI, the Little Fire God, member of the Council of the Gods and Deputy to the Sun, had taped his track shoes to his feet. He had wound the tape as Coach taught him, tight over the arch of the foot. And now the spikes biting into the packed earth of the sheep trail seemed a part of him. He ran with perfectly conditioned grace, his body a machine in motion, his mind detached, attending other things. Just ahead where the trail shifted down the slope of the mesa he would stop -- as he always did -- and check his time and allow himself four minutes of rest. He knew now with an exultant certainty that he would be ready. His lungs had expanded, his leg muscles hardened. In two days when he led Longhorn and the Council from the ancestral village to Zui, fatigue would not cause him to forget the words of the great chant, or make any missteps in the ritual dance. And when Shalako came he would be ready to dance all the night without an error. The Salamobia would never have to punish him. He remembered the year when he was nine, and Hu-tu-tu had stumbled on the causeway over Zui Wash, and the Salamobia had struck him with their yucca wands and everyone had laughed. Even the Navajos had laughed, and they laughed very little at Shalako. They would not laugh at him.
The Fire God half fell onto the outcropping of rock that was his regular resting place. He glanced quickly at his watch. He had used eleven minutes and fourteen seconds on this lap -- cutting eleven seconds off his time of yesterday. The thought gave him satisfaction, but it faded quickly. He sat on the outcrop, a slender boy with black hair falling damp across his forehead, massaging his legs through the cotton of his sweat pants. The memory of the laughing Navajos had turned his thoughts to George Bowlegs. He approached these thoughts gingerly, careful to avoid any anger. It was always to be avoided, but now it was strictly taboo. The Koyemshi had appeared in the village two days ago, announcing in each of the four plazas of Zui that eight days hence the Shalako would come from the Dance Hall of the Dead to visit their people and bless them. This was no time for angry thoughts. Bowlegs was his friend, but Bowlegs was crazy. And he had reason to be angry with him if the season did not forbid it. George had asked too many questions, and since George was a friend he had given more answers than he should have given. No matter how badly he wanted to be a Zu, to join the Fire God's own Badger Clan, George was still a Navajo. He had not been initiated, had not felt the darkness of the mask slip over his head, and seen through the eyes of the kachina spirit. And therefore there were things that George was not allowed to know and some of those things, the Fire God thought glumly, he might have told George. Father Ingles didn't think so, but Father Ingles was a white man.