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Navajo Autumn: A Navajo Nation Mystery by R.…
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Navajo Autumn: A Navajo Nation Mystery

by R. Allen Chappell

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Navajo Autumn is a short, simple mystery that I felt was a good start to the series. Hopefully the subsequent books will flesh out the characters more, but I like the way they are introduced here. There's also room to improve the plot and general story dynamics. I enjoyed the cultural representations as well.

Often unfavorably compared to Tony Hillerman by other reviewers, I had no basis to compare since I haven't yet had the opportunity to read Mr. Hillerman' highly acclaimed Native American mystery series. But I look forward to more of this author and the genre itself.

One comment I wished to share was that the final 18% of Navajo Autumn consisted of a preview for the next book in the series, so it was a short novel in truth. ( )
  Zumbanista | Dec 20, 2014 |
With the deserved success of Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee mysteries, other aspiring authors hustled to find their own place in this new niche. Some were good, many were not. What always makes the difference in this or any other subgenre of crime fiction is the writer's storytelling ability and his knowledge of his setting and his characters. R. Allen Chappell has all this in abundance.

Chappell grew up with the Navajo, went to school with them, worked with them, and built enduring friendships along the way. It shows. He knows the landscape. You're not going to find any of his characters jumping on the interstate outside of Kayenta as I did in a book I read a few months ago. (People unfamiliar with the area can see the glaring error by looking at a map. Those who have been there will roll their eyes, laugh, and keep an eye out for the next mistake.) Most of the action in Navajo Autumn takes place out in the back country of the Four Corners area. It's a land with plenty of nowhere, a land that few people will enter to find someone unless they know the area well themselves.

In addition to his lyrical description of the landscape, Chappell excels in his straight-shooting depiction of the Navajo people, their customs, their beliefs, and their way of life in this remote area. The setting and the cultural aspects of this novel alone are well worth the price of admission.

This first novel (and first mystery) does have a couple of problems. The characterizations of Charlie and Thomas can be a bit inconsistent. Charlie is first seen as a young man totally focused on his career-- in this behavior more white than Navajo. Then he rapidly changes into an altruistic soul willing to risk life and career to help his friend. I have a feeling that this was mean to to show how being in the back country amongst his people brings him closer to the values and traditions he grew up with, but the change was abrupt and a bit jarring. Thomas, too, once he's out in the back country, quickly changes from a full-blown alcoholic to someone who doesn't seem to notice that he hasn't had a drink in days.

Patsy Greyhorse's murder took a backseat for much of the book, and I feel that if her investigation and a few government machinations had been woven throughout the story more, Navajo Autumn would have been even more suspenseful and engaging. As I said earlier though, this is a first book and a first mystery, and the things I brought up can be easily fixed. What's important is that this author kept me engrossed in his story throughout, and he left me wanting more of Charlie Yazzie and Thomas Begay. I'm really looking forward to his next book, Boy Made of Dawn. ( )
  cathyskye | Apr 24, 2014 |
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Reservation "bad boy" Thomas Begay is found dead-drunk under the La Plata Bridge, which is not unusual for him. What is unusual, however, is that beautiful BIA investigator Patsy Greyhorse is found lying beside him, not drunk, or even a Navajo, but very dead nonetheless. Charlie Yazzie, fresh from law school, risks his career and even his life to help his old friend. The answer seems to lie with the Yeenaaldiooshii... should one choose to believe in such things.… (more)

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