During a kachina ceremony at the Tano pueblo, the antics of a dancing koshare fill the air with tension. Moments later, the clown is found bludgeoned to death, in the same manner a reservation schoolteacher was killed only days before. Officer Jim Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn believe that answers lie in the sacred clown's final cryptic message to the Tano people. But to decipher it, the two Navajo policemen may have to delve into closely guarded tribal secrets -- on a sinister trail of blood that links a runaway, a holy artifact, corrupt Indian traders, and a pair of dead bodies.
Telling his story the Navajo way, Hillerman ( Coyote Waits ) fully develops the background of the cases pursued by Navajo Tribal Policemen, Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee, so that the resolutions--personal and professional--ring true with gratifying inevitability. A white woodshop teacher at St. Bonaventure's mission school is bludgeoned to death in his schoolroom; a student, a young boy from Tano Pueblo, is missing. The boy's uncle, a koshare, or sacred clown, in a kachina dance, is stabbed to death right after the ceremony in which he has symbolically warned of the dangers of selling sacred objects; an old man is killed on the highway in a hit and run. Chee, who is apprehensive about working for Leaphorn, tries to locate the missing boy, whose grandmother is on the Navajo Tribal Council, and to learn who ran down the old man, but he is distracted by his growing attachment to lawyer Janet Pete and by his desire to be a hataalii , or shaman, as well as a cop. Leaphorn searches for clues while simultaneously grieving for his wife who died 18 months earlier and considering his relationship with linguistics professor Louisa Bourebonette. Jurisdictional conflicts with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Apache County Sheriff's Office reflect the cultural differences that obtain among tribes and clans as this first Leaphorn story in three years, steeped in Navajo lore and traditions, draws to its convincing conclusions. 350,000 first printing; major ad/promo; Mystery Guild selection; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates . (Sept.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 09, 1994
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Excerpt from Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman
AT FIRST, Officer Jim Chee had felt foolish sitting on the roof of the house of some total stranger. But that uneasiness had soon faded. Now this vantage point on the roof had come to seem one of Cowboy Dashee's rare good ideas. Chee could see almost everywhere from here. The drummers directly beneath the tips of his freshly shined boots, the column of masked dancers just entering the plaza to his left, the crowd of spectators jammed along the walls of the buildings, the sales booths lining the narrow streets beyond, he looked down on all of it.
And out over the flat crowded roofs of Tano Pueblo, he could rest his eyes on the ragged row of cottonwoods along the river, golden today with autumn, or upon the blue mountains blocking the horizon, or the green-tan-silver patchwork of farm fields the Tanoans irrigated.
It was an excellent perch from which to witness the Tanoan kachina dance -- for duty as well as pleasure. Especially with the warm, jeans-clad thigh of Janet Pete pressed against him. If Delmar Kanitewa was present, Chee would be likely to see him. If the boy didn't show up, then there was no better place from which to watch the ceremonial. Such mystical rituals had always fascinated Chee. Since boyhood Chee had wanted to follow Hosteen Frank Sam Nakai.
In the Navajo family structure Nakai was Chee's "Little Father," his mother's elder brother. Nakai was a shaman of the highest order. He was a hataalii -- what the whites called a singer, or medicine man. He was respected for his knowledge of the traditional religion and of the curing ways the Holy People had taught to keep humankind in harmony with the reality that surrounds us all. Nakai worked along that narrow line that separates flesh and spirit. Since boyhood, that had interested Chee.
"On the roof is where they like visitors to sit when they're having a kachina dance," Dashee had said. "It gets you tourists out from underfoot. Unless you fall off, there's a lot less chance you'll do something stupid and mess up the ceremony. And it leaves room around the dance ground for the Tano people. They need to exchange gifts with the kachinas. Things like that."
Dashee was a sworn deputy sheriff of Apache County, Arizona, a Hopi of his people's ancient Side Corn Clan, and Jim Chee's closest friend. But he could also be a pain in the butt.
"But what if I spot the kid " Chee had asked. "Is he going to wait while I climb down "
"Why not He won't know you're looking for him." Cowboy had then leaned against Janet Pete and confided in a stage whisper, "The boy'll think Detective Chee would be over there in Thoreau working on that big homicide."
"You know," Asher Davis said, "I'll bet I know that guy. There was a teacher at that Saint Bonaventure School -- one of those volunteers -- who called me a time or two to see if I could get a good price for something some old-timer had to sell. One time it was a little silver pollen container -- looked late nineteenth century -- and some jerk in Farmington had offered this old man two dollars for it. I got him two hundred and fifty. I wonder if that was the teacher who got killed."
"His name was Dorsey," Chee said, sounding slightly grouchy. He didn't know Davis and wasn't sure he'd like him. But maybe that was just the mood he was in.
"Dorsey," Davis said. "That's him."
"See " Cowboy said. "Officer Chee keeps up on those serious crimes. And he also has time to write letters to the editor telling the Tano council what to do with its old uranium mines."
"Hey," Janet said. "Watch it there, Cowboy. That was a darn good letter. It was good advice. The paper thought so, too. They put the big headline on it." She punched Cowboy on the shoulder. "Do you want to see us being used as the world's toxic waste dump "