Three shotgun blasts explode into the trailer of Officer Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police. But Chee survives to join partner Lt. Joe Leaphorn in a frightening investigation that takes them into a dark world of ritual, witchcraft, and blood -- all tied to the elusive and evil "skinwalker." Brimming with Navajo lore and sizzling suspense, Skinwalkers brings Chee and Leaphorn, Hillerman's bestselling detective team, together for the first time.
Vibrant with the spirit of the Navajo people of the Southwest, Hillerman's new story is a spellbinder, like his Edgar Winner Dance Hall of the Dead and other praised novels. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the tribal police work together here, trying to solve crimes that resist logic. There are no clues to three homicides or to the attempted murder of Chee. Leaphorn thinks a ``skinwalker,'' or witch, could have attacked the victims, all adherents of shamanism, as they are otherwise unrelated. The skinwalkers represent a schism between witchcraft and the traditional Navajo Way. A second attempt on Chee bolsters Leaphorn's suspicion since Chee is an aspiring shaman. The story gathers momentum and tension as the partners get closer to the moment when the murderer comes into the open, and the tragic reason for the crimes becomes painfully clear. 30,000 first printing; BOMC alternate; author tour. (January 1) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 05, 2002
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Excerpt from Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman
WHEN THE CAT came through the little trapdoor at the bottom of the screen it made a clack-clack sound. Slight, but enough to awaken Jim Chee. Chee had been moving in and out of the very edge of sleep, turning uneasily on the narrow bed, pressing himself uncomfortably against the metal tubes that braced the aluminum skin of his trailer. The sound brought him enough awake to be aware that his sheet was tangled uncomfortably around his chest.
He sorted out the bedclothing, still half immersed in an uneasy dream of being tangled in a rope that he needed to keep his mother's sheep from running over the edge of something vague and dangerous. Perhaps the uneasy dream provoked an uneasiness about the cat. What had chased it in Something scary to a cat -- or to this particular cat. Was it something threatening to Chee But in a moment he was fully awake, and the uneasiness was replaced by happiness. Mary Landon would be coming. Blue-eyed, slender, fascinating Mary Landon would be coming back from Wisconsin. Just a couple of weeks more to wait.
Jim Chee's conditioning -- traditional Navajo -- caused him to put that thought aside. All things in moderation. He would think more about that later. Now he thought about tomorrow. Today, actually, since it must be well after midnight. Today he and Jay Kennedy would go out and arrest Roosevelt Bistie so that Bistie could be charged with some degree of homicide -- probably with murder. Not a complicated job, but unpleasant enough to cause Chee to change the subject of his thinking again. He thought about the cat. What had driven it in The coyote, maybe. Or what Obviously something the cat considered a threat.
The cat had appeared last winter, finding itself a sort of den under a juniper east of Chee's trailer -- a place where a lower limb, a boulder, and a rusted barrel formed a closed cul-de-sac. It had become a familiar, if suspicious, neighbor. During the spring, Chee had formed a habit of leaving out table scraps to feed it after heavy snows. Then when the snow melt ended and the spring drought arrived, he began leaving out water in a coffee can. But easy water attracted other animals, and birds, and sometimes they turned it over. And so, one afternoon when there was absolutely nothing else to do, Chee had removed the door, hacksawed out a cat-sized rectangle through its bottom frame, and then attached a plywood flap, using leather hinges and Miracle Glue. He had done it on a whim, partly to see if the ultracautious cat could be taught to use it. If the cat did, it would gain access to a colony of field mice that seemed to have moved into Chee's trailer. And the watering problem would be solved. Chee felt slightly uneasy about the water. If he hadn't started this meddling, nature would have taken its normal course. The cat would have moved down the slope and found itself a den closer to the San Juan -- which was never dry. But Chee had interfered. And now Chee was stuck with a dependent.
Chee's interest, originally, had been simple curiosity. Once, obviously, the cat had been owned by someone. It was skinny now, with a long scar over its ribs and a patch of fur missing from its right leg, but it still wore a collar, and, despite its condition, it had a purebred look. He'd described it to the woman in the pet store at Farmington -- tan fur, heavy hind legs, round head, pointed ears; reminded you of a bobcat, and like a bobcat it had a mere stub of a tail. The woman had said it must be a Manx.
"Somebody's pet. People are always bringing their pets along on vacations," she'd said, disapproving, "and then they don't take care of them and they get out of the car and that's the end of them." She'd asked Chee if he could catch it and bring it in, "so somebody can take care of it."