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Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman

Skeleton Man (2004)

by Tony Hillerman

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Amazon Description: Former Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn comes out of retirement to help investigate what seems to be a trading post robbery. A simple-minded kid nailed for the crime is the cousin of an old colleague of Sergeant Jim Chee. He needs help and Chee, and his fiancée Bernie Manuelito, decide to provide it.
Proving the kid's innocence requires finding the remains of one of 172 people whose bodies were scattered among the cliffs of the Grand Canyon in an epic airline disaster 50 years in the past. That passenger had handcuffed to his wrist an attaché case filled with a fortune in—one of which seems to have turned up in the robbery.
But with Hillerman, it can't be that simple. The daughter of the long-dead diamond dealer is also seeking his body. So is a most unpleasant fellow willing to kill to make sure she doesn't succeed. These two tense tales collide deep in the canyon at the place where an old man died trying to build a cult reviving reverence for the Hopi guardian of the Underworld. It's a race to the finish in a thunderous monsoon storm to see who will survive, who will be brought to justice, and who will finally unearth the Skeleton Man.

Leaphorn and Chee combine to solve a mystery. Great characters, great story. I love how the threads of Indian legends are woven into the fabric of the story and new characters are added the story such as Bernie and Louisa. The use of a historical event to build the story had me running to my computer to learn more about the past. The bad guys running around with guns made me nervous and on edge, TH really knows how to grab emotions in concern for his characters. Great Read! ( )
  Bettesbooks | Jul 28, 2018 |

If you aren’t familiar with Tony Hillerman, he’s an Albuquerque newspaper reporter who has been writing a series of mystery novels about the Navajo Tribal Police for 30+ years now. The protagonists of the early novels alternated between Sergeant Jim Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn; in the more recent ones, Leaphorn (now retired and a private investigator) and Chee generally collaborate (although initially seeming to work on unrelated cases).

With my contact with the Navajo limited to driving on I40 and stopping for fry bread, I can’t personally vouch for Hillerman’s authenticity; however, he has won an award from the Navajo (Special Friend of the Dinee) for accurate and sympathetic portrayal of Native American life. He’s also been criticized by notorious pseudoIndian Ward Churchill, which I would assume is something of a badge of honor in itself.

On the minus side, Hillerman’s been accused of being antiscience. Scientists appearing in Hillerman novels are sometimes the villain; if not, they are often portrayed as cold and uncaring “superbrains” (that term is actually used once). Forensic science is always a background process; if Hillerman needs some fingerprints or pollen analysis or whatever to advance the plot, it’s done by sending evidence off to “the lab” and waiting for a written report to come back. Hillerman’s eyewitnesses, on the other hand, are astounding; they can typically remember minute details of events that happened decades earlier. And they’re always accurate.

The first novels in this series are the best in terms of plotting and suspense; with time Hillerman has become increasingly formulaic. The latest, Skeleton Man, (well, the latest I’ve read) continues this trend. The premise is intriguing enough; the collision of two airliners over the Grand Canyon in 1956 results in a missing persons case 60 years later (I’m just barely old enough to remember that crash from TV reports; it was the largest loss of life from any US airline accident up till then and resulted in commercial airliners no longer being able to use VFR flight rules). However, the recent Hillerman pattern quickly emerges: a wealthy Anglo supervillain (described as “a member of the Anglo-Saxon, Nordic ruling class”), greedy and arrogant Anglo subordinate villains, Indian falsely accused of murder, incompetent FBI, even a repeat of the deus ex machina,/i> flash flood that ended an earlier novel (I’m not going to tell you which one; bad enough that I’m spoiling this one). At least there aren't any evil scientists. The redeeming feature of the recent novels has been the continuing development of the reoccurring characters; series novelists can do something with this that “mainstream” literature can’t (what, I wonder, happened to Oliver Twist as he grew up?). Worth reading if you’re comfortable with Jim Chee’s beat-up trailer or Joe Leaphorn’s coffee; get it from the library unless you're OCD about having them all in a neat row on your bookshelf. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 19, 2017 |
It is a light read with an imaginative story line. Narrated, as always by George Guidall.Characters were familiar, which makes a good read. Of note, Chee and Bernie are working out the details of their upcoming marriage. Oh and there were a few bad(der) guys who kept getting in the way, but in the end got their comeuppance. ( )
  buffalogr | Nov 4, 2017 |
I listened to the recorded version of this novel. It was read by George Guidall, who is a rock star in the world of recorded books. Earlier this month I listened to him read The Highwayman by Craig Johnson and hated the way he talked. HATED IT. To my surprise I liked this narration and thought that Guidall did a very good job on the reading. He did not sound like an old man with a mouth full of chew. This one was recorded in 2004 and the Longmire book was in 2016. 12 years makes a difference. I would recommend the recorded version of this novel as it is highly interesting and a well done narration.

In this novel, Joe Leaphorn takes a back seat to Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito. Leaphorn makes just enough of an appearance to add color and background to the story. Bernie and Jim get a chance to shine and the story of them working out how their marriage is going to work comes to the fore. There is a good mystery plot and great character development in it. This was a pleasure to listen to. I will be sorry to see this series end with the next novel. ( )
  benitastrnad | Oct 18, 2017 |
Oh, Jim Chee. How I will (not) miss you when I'm through with this series. The whiny Navajo Tribal Police sergeant is finally engaged to Bernadette Manuelito, a woman who seems much more suited to deal with his BS than the other two women he made an idiot of himself over in previous books. And yet, STILL WHINING! As a bonus, we get some navel-gazing from inside Bernie's head, too, as if one of them dragging the plot to a screeching halt wasn't enough.

The mystery, involving a mid-air collision of airliners over the Grand Canyon and a suitcase full of lost diamonds handcuffed to a dead man's severed arm, was not as interesting as that description makes it sound, since the crash was decades earlier and the arm is a mere skeleton. But the setting, on the floor of the Grand Canyon, was really interesting and the physical description made me feel like I was there. So that's something, anyway. ( )
  rosalita | Oct 4, 2017 |
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Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, retired, had been explaining how the complicated happening below the Salt Woman Shrine illustrated his Navajo belief in universal connections.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 006056346X, Mass Market Paperback)

Joe Leaphorn, former Navajo tribal police lieutenant, is not a happy retiree. So when his successor asks him to look into how a young Hopi named Billy Tuve came by a valuable diamond the boy tried to pawn for a fraction of its worth, Joe finds himself involved in a five decade old mystery. It dates back to a plane crash in the Grand Canyon, one that took the life of a man whose putative daughter also has an interest in the diamond; it could lead her to her father's remains, from which she hopes to extract enough DNA to establish her birthright. For good measure, Hillerman adds a couple of villains determined to beat her to the site of the crash, a cache of other diamonds long since given up for lost in the Canyon's watery depths, and a Hopi ritual that's kept the site secret for years. It's a good yarn, well but twice told; Hillerman sets it up in a chronologically confusing opening chapter, in which Joe spins the story for a couple of former law-enforcement colleagues--not just to entertain or enlighten them but to demonstrate what he calls his "Navajo belief in universal connections. The cause leads to inevitable effect. The entire cosmos being an infinitely complicated machine all working together."

Hillerman is a name-brand writer with a huge and well deserved following. His evocation of the landscape of the Southwest is as compelling as it ever was, and many familiar characters from the other 18 novels in this prize-winning series appear here, notably Sergeant Jim Chee and border patrol officer Bernie Manuelito, the woman Chee hopes to marry. Joe Leaphorn remains his most fully-realized protagonist; his perspective on life, destiny, and the sometimes uneasy truce between Native Americans and whites gives this series a unique place in the genre. But as evidenced by his latest, Hillerman's hero needs more than a retired duffer's memories to keep him vital and alive, even for his most dedicated fans. --Jane Adams

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:42 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Former Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is coming out of retirement to help exonerate a slow, simple kid accused of robbing a trading post. Billy Tuve claims he received the diamond he tried to pawn from a mysterious old man in the canyon, and his story has attracted the dangerous attention of strangers to the Navajo lands - one more interested in a severed limb than in the fortune it was handcuffed to; another willing to murder to keep lost secrets hidden. But nature herself may prove the deadliest adversary, as Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee follow a puzzle - and a killer - down into the dark realm of Skeleton Man. -- from back cover.… (more)

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