A grave robber and a corpse reunite Navajo Tribal Police Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee. As Leaphorn seeks the identity of a murder victim, Chee is arresting Smithsonian conservator Henry Highhawk for ransacking the sacred bones of his ancestors. As the layers of each case are peeled away, it becomes shockingly clear that they are connected, that there are mysterious others pursuing Highhawk, and that Leaphorn and Chee have entered into the dangerous arena of superstition, ancient ceremony, and living gods.
Hillerman's latest is not quite up to his best standards, but it's still a wonderfully readable, involving mystery. Here he sets Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee in Washington, D.C., as each uses vacation time to follow separate cases that will connect in a clash of violence at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History. Chee has come at the request of Janet Pete, a Navajo lawyer with a case that involves a ceremonial mask of Yeibichai, or Talking God, maternal grandfather of all the other Navajo gods, and a museum curator named Henry Highhawk, who claims Navajo ancestry and wants to be included on tribal rolls. Leaphorn's interest rises from a puzzling homicide case--an unidentified corpse found near Gallup, N.M., with a note mentioning a pending Yeibichai ceremony. Just as Leaphorn's tenacity reveals the dead man was a leftist Chilean terrorist, Highhawk is killed (in a spooky late-night scene in the Museum) and the pivotal role of the Talking God mask comes into play. Leaphorn's grief over the recent death of his wife, Chee's sorrow at the end of an impossible love affair, both men's sense of alienation in the capital city's urban sophistication suffuse this slim, somewhat contrived, tale with palpable melancholy. 150,000 copy first printing; $150,000 ad/promo; Mysterious Book Club dual main selection; BOMC and QPBC alternates; author tour. (June) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 15, 1991
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Excerpt from Talking God by Tony Hillerman
Through the doorway which led from her receptionist-secretary's office into her own, Catherine Morris Perry instantly noticed the box on her desk. It was bulky -- perhaps three feet long and almost as high. The legend printed on it said it had originally contained a microwave oven manufactured by General Electric. Strips of brown tape had been wrapped erratically around it. It was a crude box, incongruous amid the pale pastels and tasteful artifacts of Catherine Perry's stylish office.
"How was the weekend?" Markie said.
Catherine Morris Perry hung her raincoat on its peg, hung her rain hat over it, removed the transparent plastic from her shoes, and said, "Hello, Markie."
"How was Vermont?' Markie asked. "Wet up there, too?"
"Where'd that come from?" Catherine said, indicating the box.
"Federal Express," Markie said. "I signed for it."
"Am I expecting anything?"
"Not that you told me about. How was Vermont?"
"Wet," Catherine said. She did not wish to discuss Vermont, or anything else involving life outside this office, with Markie Bailey. What she did wish to discuss with Markie was taste. Or lack of taste. Putting the big box, brown and ugly, on her antique desk, as Markie had done, was typical of the problem. It squatted there, ugly, obscenely out of place. As out of place as Mrs. Bailey was in this office.
But getting rid of her would be almost impossible. Certainly a huge amount of trouble under federal civil service rules. Mrs. Perry's specialty in law was not personnel, but she had learned something from the efforts to get rid of Henry Highhawk, that troublemaking conservator in the Museum of Natural History. What an unending fiasco that had been.