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Skeleton Man
By Tony Hillerman

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Skeleton Man

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Skeleton Man
A Joe Leaphorn - Jim Chee Mystery
By Tony Hillerman
Large Print Edition
Harper Large Print, 2004
An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 0-06-075423-0
Genre: Mystery

Reviewed by Herbert White - March 25, 2005

Before he retired from police work, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn had investigated a robbery at the Short Mountain Trading Post. The case was never solved. Now events have occurred that require that this cold case be reopened. To help with the investigation, Leaphorn is called out of retirement. What begins as a simple reexamination of an old case soon turns personal when a cousin of a friend of Sergeant Jim Chee is fingered for the robbery. Chee knows that the suspect is innocent, but needs the help of is old friend, and mentor, Leaphorn, to help to prove it.

The investigation into the old robbery soon becomes entangled in the past. In 1956 an airliner crashed in the Grand Canyon, killing all aboard. The cause of the crash was never determined, in part because the wreckage was never recovered. When a Hopi Indian, named Billy Tuve, pawns a twenty-thousand diamond for twenty bucks, red flags go up as the diamond is thought to have belonged to one of the crash victims. Events quickly spiral out of control when Joanna Craig arrives from New York in search of the body of her father, who died in the crash. Craig search is more than just familial, she needs get a sample of her father's DNA in order to prove that she is his daughter, so that she can inherit from his estate. While she is looking for her own treasure, others are out to find the rest of the diamonds that are thought to have been onboard the flight - hidden in a attache case handcuffed to the wrist of Craig's father. There are factions involved that fear that Craig's efforts will impede there own quest and are willing to stop at nothing to keep her from intervening with their salvage efforts.

Skeleton Man, by Tony Hillerman, is a fast-paced, high action mystery. The story is infused with tidbits gathered from various Indian cultures including the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo. The story is well wrought - although it is not told in a linear fashion, rather he starts, rather cryptically, at the end, then goes back and tells what came before. As with most of his other fiction books, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are the main characters. Leaphorn is not adjusting to very well to retirement and is more than happy to be called back to duty, and Chee is maturing nicely. He is engaged to Bernie Manuelito, and she has a beefy role in this story. The other characters in this story are characteristically colorful and extremely human. The mystery, itself, is full of a nice assortment of red herrings and twists that make for a deliciously complicated story.

If you've never read any of Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn - Jim Chee mysteries or seen any of the televised versions of these stories, you may be a slight disadvantage as you'll not know the full background of Leaphorn and Chee, nor the cultural background of the Navajos that Hillerman has expounded upon in more detail in some of his previous books. However, don't let this scare you away from making this your first foray into the Joe Leaphorn - Jim Chee series. While starting with this book may mean that you miss out on some insider information, it will not impede your understanding or enjoyment of this rich and engaging story.

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