Harper Collins, 2002
My Rating: B+
It’s been quite a number of years since I read one of Tony Hillerman’s stories. I thought I’d read them al,l but when I saw this one at the Kindle store, it didn’t ring a bell. So, I downloaded it.
If you are unfamiliar with Tony Hillerman’s mystery stories, let me give you a little background.
Hillerman set his Navajo Tribal Police detective stories in the Four Corners area of New Mexico/Arizona. His main characters are police detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. The stories are always involve a murder mystery as well as other mysteries, and they also give the reader a good look at the Navajo culture and the beauty of the American Southwest.
In The Wailing Wind we see another of Hillerman’s characters, Officer Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito, as she performs her official duties. As the story opens, Bernie is investigating an abandoned truck and discovers a dead body. As she waits for the medical examiner’s people to arrive, Bernie, an amateur botanist, collects various plant material and stores them in an empty tobacco can she finds nearby.
When the body is discovered to have been murdered, Bernie and her boss, Jim Chee, realize Bernie has violated evidence rules at a crime scene. Jim Chee does not want to ruin Bernie’s career, especially with the FBI involved. He asks the “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn for advice in how to handle the situation.
Joe Leaphorn, now retired, is bored and looking for interesting things to do. (Joe is only joyfully retired when he gets his brain involved in a mystery.) Leaphorn volunteers to help Jim and Bernie and thus finds himself involved in solving this case as well as one of his old cases.
The story includes conflicts with the FBI, a wealthy oil and gas man and his missing wife, a lost gold mine, efforts to protect sacred ground of the tribe, an old tale of a wailing woman, and even a little romance.
There are four things I like best about a Navajo Tribal Police mystery story. First are the characters of Leaphorn and Chee. You can feel the great respect between the older and younger men as well as the great respect they have for people and doing what is right. Second, the plot is always intricate though not complicated.
Third is the little look I get at the culture of the Navajo people. An example is the Navajo’s patient nature. When speaking with one another, it is very poor form to interrupt. They like to allow a person to tell their story in their own particular way even if that is very slowly. When introducing themselves to someone new, they tell of their mother’s and then their father’s family background, the tribe, etc. It’s especially interesting when that culture clashes with the people of the outside world, the FBI.
And fourth, there is a tremendous awareness and appreciation for the natural world in which these stories are set. I can see the beautiful high-desert vistas described as well as the gritty and abandoned-looking hogans.
If you are looking for a literary visit to southwestern United States and want to learn a little about the Navajo people, do it in one of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police stories. This one was number 15 in the series but it doesn’t matter. They each stand alone.
The Wailing Wind is available at Amazon. (I am an Amazon Associate.)