As bubonic plague sweeps the Navajo reservation, someone is murdering the researchers who are struggling to control the disease. Lieutenant Chee & retired police officer Leaphorn must find the killer before it is too late
The modern resurgence of the black death animates Hillerman's 14th tale featuring retired widower Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Acting Lieutenant Jim Chee. Bubonic plague has survived for centuries in the prairie-dog villages of the Southwest, where its continuing adaptation to modern antibiotics has increased its potential for mass destruction. Leaphorn is hired by a wealthy Santa Fe woman to search for her granddaughter, biologist Catherine Pollard, who has disappeared during her field work as a "flea catcher," collecting plague-carrying specimens from desert rodents. At the same time, Jim Chee arrests Robert Jano, a young Hopi man and known poacher of eagles, in the bludgeoning death of another Navajo Police officer at a site where the biologist was seen working. As Leaphorn learns more about Pollard's work from her boss in the Indian Health Service and an epidemiologist with ties to a pharmaceutical company, the U.S. Attorney's office decides to seek the death penalty against Jano, who is being represented by Chee's former fiance, Janet Pete, recently returned from Washington, D.C. Hillerman's trademark melding of Navajo tradition and modern culture is captured with crystal clarity in this tale of an ancient scourge's resurgence in today's world. The uneasy mix of old ways and new is articulated with resonant depth as Chee, an aspiring shaman, is driven to choose between his career and his commitment to the ways of his people, and Leaphorn moves into a deeper friendship with ethnology professor, Louisa Bourebonette. Author tour. (Aug.) FYI: Simultaneous release by HarperAudio in abridged ($25 ISBN 0-694-52011-X) and unabridged ($34.95 ISBN 0-694-52051-9) editions. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 01, 1999
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Excerpt from The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman
The body of Anderson Nez lay under a sheet on the gurney, waiting.
From the viewpoint of Shirley Ahkeah, sitting at her desk in the Intensive Care Unit nursing station of the Northern Arizona Medical Center in Flagstaff, the white shape formed by the corpse of Mr. Nez reminded her of Sleeping Ute Mountain as seen from her aunt's hogan near Teec Nos Pos. Nez's feet, only a couple of yards from her eyes, pushed the sheet up to form the mountain's peak. Perspective caused the rest of the sheet to slope away in humps and ridges, as the mountain seemed to do under its winter snow when she was a child. Shirley had given up on finishing her night shift paperwork. Her mind kept drifting away to what had happened to Mr. Nez and trying to calculate whether he fit into the Bitter Water clan Nez family with the grazing lease adjoining her grandmother's place at Short Mountain. And then there was the question of whether his family would allow an autopsy. She remembered them as sheep camp traditionals, but Dr. Woody, the one who'd brought Nez in, insisted he had the family's permission.
At that moment Dr. Woody was looking at his watch, a black plastic digital job that obviously hadn't been bought to impress the sort of people who are impressed by expensive watches.
"Now," Woody said, "I need to know the time the man died."
"It was early this morning," Dr. Delano said, looking surprised. It surprised Shirley, too, because Woody already knew the answer.
"No. No. No," Woody said. "I mean exactly when."
"Probably about two a.m.," Dr. Delano said, with his expression saying that he wasn't used to being addressed in that impatient tone. He shrugged. "Something like that." .