The Tale Teller

The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman

Set in the Navajo Nation in the scenic American southwest, this is Anne Hillerman’s best mystery so far; her fifth novel continuing the tradition of her father Tony. Fans of either Hillerman’s books, and readers of contemporary American mysteries with police protagonists, along with readers attracted by the Four Corners setting, will be sure to enjoy. Retired police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is asked to look into items missing from an anonymous museum donation, including a valuable artifact linked to the Navajo’s Long Walk. Joe continues to recover his fluency in spoken English after an injury, preferring to communicate by writing or in spoken Navajo. As his companion Louisa doesn’t speak Navajo, their relationship has some ups and downs. Navajo Police Sergeant Jim Chee investigates a string of burglaries and a shooting, while Officer Bernie Manuelito discovers a body on a running trail, thanks to a loyal dog. Family and clan connections are very important here, with a number of secrets to be uncovered. The main characters continue to develop, adding greatly to this mystery’s appeal; a very satisfying read. The first book featuring Bernie is Spider Woman’s Daughter.


Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

I found this first book in the Sixth World post-apocalyptic Navajo fantasy series to be a compelling read. After a great flood, walls have risen around the Dinétah, the southwestern Navajo lands. Gods and monsters have appeared, and some Diné have developed special powers. Maggie Hoskie has been trained to fight monsters, but lacks self-confidence and is reluctant to trust after some bad experiences. The Dinétah world is vividly described, and the story is fast-paced and exciting, if a little violent. Maggie is asked to help Coyote, and reluctantly partners with young medicine man Kai, who refuses to use guns, but has some hidden powers. A finalist for two major awards, this novel has already won the Locus Award for best first novel. The sequel, Storm of Locusts, is available now.


Spider Woman’s Daughter

spider woman's jacketSpider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman

In Anne Hillerman’s debut Leaphorn and Chee Novel; the story begins with a bang. An unidentified attacker shoots retired Navajo Nation police lieutenant, Joe Leaphorn, outside of his favorite café. Officer Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito comes to his aid and promises Leaphorn that she will bring the perpetrator to justice. This is a difficult thing to do, because police protocol requires that she be removed from the case as a means to protect her from any further mental and emotional trauma. Jim Chee, Leaphorn’s protégée and truly his next of kin, is assigned the case and together he and his determined wife Bernie (who is unstoppable) set to work. As the plot thickens, someone who had been trusted by Leaphorn, Bernie, and Chee disappears and then becomes suspect in the eyes of the department. Some other people, who had been long gone from Leaphorn’s life, resurface. These comings and goings leave readers wondering if ever the two paths shall meet and will that provide answers to whodunit-who shot Leaphorn! Additionally, new characters have been thrown into the mix that are either a digression, or a lead, in Bernie and Chee’s investigation, which they logically solve by the story’s end.

It is difficult to not compare Anne Hillerman’s work to that of her award winning father, Tony Hillerman. Her father wrote the first eighteen novels in this popular Leaphorn and Chee Novel series beginning in 1970 and ending in 2006. He passed away in 2008. Like Tony Hillerman’s stories, Anne Hillerman’s book is intriguing, character driven, has multiple plots, simple dialogue, and includes only mild violence. Anne Hillerman’s story also creates a strong sense of place (in this case, New Mexico and in particular, sacred places such as Chaco Canyon). Her first novel offers historical detail and several descriptions of indigenous beliefs, much as her father’s novels do—only here, readers may find it refreshing that the point of view is that of a woman and the focus is on the female traditions of her Nation.

For those of you who think about the author as you read, you may find yourself confused as to whether or not this is Anne Hillerman’s, or her father’s voice, because overall she seamlessly continues his tradition of great storytelling. At other times, you may feel certain that this is the storytelling voice of Anne Hillerman, whose main protagonist, Bernie, encapsulates what it is to be a strong woman who must balance her professional and personal life. Bernie is a descendant of weavers. She is the Spider Woman’s Daughter, a nickname her mother has proudly given her. Perhaps, Anne Hillerman is also the Spider Woman’s Daughter—someone who “helps with life’s unexpected complications, untangling messy situations.” For when fans of Tony Hillerman’s books worried if their favorite stories had ended, the talented writer Anne Hillerman came through and she delivered an enjoyable and satisfying continuation in this series!

Readers of this fictional series may also enjoy High Country by Nevada Barr (set in breathtaking Yosemite National Park this modern murder mystery transports readers to the American West)

Blackening Song by Aimee and David Thurlo (the first in a mystery series set in the Southwest that features Ella Clah, a Navajo FBI agent who struggles with traditional and modern Navajo pressures)

White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones (the first in the Nathan Active mystery series that features an Alaskan state trooper who was born Inupiat, but raised white. Nathan has returned to his birthplace on a work assignment and finds himself caught between two worlds)

Discover more on the author’s website.