To Officer Bernadette Manuelito, the man curled up on the truck seat was just another drunk -- which got Bernie in trouble for mishandling a crime scene -- which got Sergeant Jim Chee in trouble with the FBI -- which drew Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn out of retirement and back into the old "Golden Calf" homicide, a case he had hoped to forget. Nothing had seemed complicated about that earlier one. A con game had gone sour. A swindler had tried to sell wealthy old Wiley Denton the location of one of the West's multitude of legendary lost gold mines. Denton had shot the swindler, called the police, confessed the homicide, and done his short prison time. No mystery there. Except why did the rich man's bride vanish? The cynics said she was part of the swindle plot. She'd fled when it failed. But, alas, old Joe Leaphorn was a romantic. He believed in love, and thus the Golden Calf case still troubled him.
The 15th Chee/Leaphorn mystery (after 1999's relatively weak Hunting Badger) finds MWA Grand Master Hillerman back at the top of his form as his two Navajo peace officers look into both a past and present mystery. Religious fervency and single-minded greed become strange but necessary bedfellows in a plot filled, as always, with insights into the lives and beliefs of the "Dineh." When an abandoned pickup truck turns out to contain one very dead white man, Sgt. Jim Chee's instincts lead him to bring retired Lt. Joe Leaphorn into the case. Leaphorn's trademark curiosity sends him in search of possible links between this homicide and another two years earlier. The first murder occurred on Halloween day when Wiley Denton supposedly shot Marvin McKay in self-defense after McKay tried to sell him bogus information about an old gold mine. That same day Denton's wife, Linda, disappeared; she has never been heard from again. Leaphorn's recollection of what had been shrugged off as a Halloween prank out at old Fort Wingate now becomes the itch he has to scratch. It seems a group of teens shortcutting across the area had endured a close call with La Llorana, a mythical wailing woman. The information he gathers adds yet another piece to the puzzle of the missing Linda. Chee is up to his elbows in not only the investigation but also in sorting through his growing emotional confusion about the beautiful Bernadette Manuelito. The seemingly insignificant turns critical and the loose ends tie up in one tidy conclusion as Hillerman repeatedly shines in this masterfully complex new novel. (On sale May 7) Forecast: The strength of this latest Chee/Leaphorn mystery, plus a major publicity push that includes national advertising and a three-city author tour, should ensure a healthy run on bestseller lists. Hillerman's recent memoir, Seldom Disappointed (Forecasts, Sept. 24, 2001), will also give a boost. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 25, 2003
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Excerpt from The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman
Officer Bernadette Manuelito had been having a busy day, enjoying most of it, and no longer feeling like the greenest rookie of the Navajo Tribal Police. She had served the warrant to Desmond Nakai at the Cudai Chapter House, following her policy of getting the most unpleasant jobs out of the way first. Nakai had actually been at the chapter house, obviating the hunt for him she'd expected, and--contrary to predictions of Captain Largo--he had been pleasant about it.
She had dropped down to the Beclabito Day School to investigate a reported break-in there. That was nothing much. A temp maintenance employee had overdone his weekend drinking, couldn't wait until Monday to get a jacket he'd left behind, broke a window, climbed in and retrieved it. He agreed to pay for the damages. The dispatcher then contacted her and canceled her long drive to the Sweetwater Chapter House. That made Red Valley next on her list of stops.
"And Bernie," the dispatcher said, "when you're done at Red Valley, here's another one for you. Fellow called in and said there's a vehicle abandoned up a gulch off that dirt road that runs over to the Cove school. Paleblue king-cab pickup truck. Check the plates. We'll see if it's stolen."
"Why didn't you get the license number from the guy reporting it?"