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The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman
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The Shape Shifter (2006)

by Tony Hillerman

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And so we come to the end of the road for the Leaphorn/Chee reading adventure. This is the last book written by the original author, and while I've heard good reviews of the series continuation by his daughter Anne, I don't intend to continue reading after this. So you can imagine how happy I am that this final book went such a long way toward restoring all of my original good feelings about the series.

The main reason, of course, is that it is entirely focused on Joe Leaphorn, the now-retired Navajo Tribal Police lieutenant on whom Hillerman first focused the series. The case, involving an ancient Navajo rug depicting the tragedies inflicted upon the tribe during its forced relocation known as The Long Walk, has callbacks to a case that Leaphorn worked when he was a brand-new policeman, many years ago. In the original investigation, the rug was thought to have burned in an arson fire. But when a photo of a rug that looks identical shows up in a glossy lifestyle magazine in Falstaff, one of Leaphorn's former colleagues ropes him in to investigate.

Leaphorn is very nearly his old self here, barring the incessant carping on his supposedly retired state. I wonder if Hillerman realized toward the end that he had made a mistake by putting Leaphorn out to pasture and pushing Jim Chee to the forefront of the series? And I wonder, too, if Hillerman realized this would be his last book, prompting the return to its roots? Regardless of the answer to either of those questions, this is an absorbing mystery and once again contains plenty of Navajo culture and history to make reading it a pleasure. All in all, a satisfying way to end a series read. ( )
  rosalita | Oct 8, 2017 |
The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman
4 ½ stars
Joe Leaphorn, now retired from the tribal police, is restless in his retirement and isn’t ready to let go of the world of crime-solving. He receives a page from a recent glossy magazine in the mail, sent by a fellow former policeman named Mel Bork, which shows the interior of a fancy home, including a rare rug hanging on the wall, a rug that Leaphorn had believed to be destroyed. Mel and Leaphorn had discussed the cold case in which the rug had been destroyed in a fire at a trading post. Mel—now a private investigator—has decided to do some research on the old case and try to find out more about the rug pictured in the magazine.

Leaphorn calls Mel after receiving the photo and learns from Mel’s distressed wife that he has been missing for a couple of days, and that he’d received a threatening phone message telling him to leave the old case alone. Leaphorn decides to investigate. The original cold case revolves around the death of an FBI most-wanted criminal, Ray Shewnack, who burned to ashes in a fire at a local trading post, along with a very rare hand-made rug called the Woven Sorrow Rug, which was hanging in a case on the wall at the trading post. The rug would have been nearly impossible to duplicate because it was woven in part during the forced march of the Navajo people in the 1860s from their reservation in Arizona into eastern New Mexico, and it incorporated bits of root and feathers, along with dyes made from plants along the route. The rug was also rare because it was a representation of sorrow and greed, not things the Navajo people normally accentuated in their crafts and art. Some people thought the rug was cursed.

As Leaphorn retraces missing Mel’s path, we’re introduced to potential suspects in the cold case in which Shewnack died, and we learn the story of the manipulative Shewnack, who double-crossed his accomplices in an even earlier case, a robbery and double-homicide, which landed all of his accomplices in jail while he went free. The cold case becomes hot again as more tragic crimes occur in present day and the truth is revealed.

This is the 18th and final book in the Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee series by Hillerman, published in 2006, two years before his death. We catch just a glimpse of Jim Chee in this book, as Leaphorn visits Jim and Bernadette, both tribal officers who are newlyweds and have just returned from their honeymoon. I thought it was interesting that the rug was called a “story-telling rug” and that Leaphorn is also “story-telling” as he unfolds the story of this case (or a version of it that won’t get them in trouble) for Jim and Bernadette.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read any of Hillerman’s mysteries—I read many of them when I was in my 20s and then moved away from mysteries in general and started reading other types of fiction and a lot more in the fantasy genre. But I still love his writing style, which is very clean and calm and straightforward. I also enjoy reading about the Navajo culture, history, and mythology, which Hillerman weaves in to his stories so well. I’m tempted now to go back and read the earlier books again, and whatever ones I may have missed along the way.
( )
  kimberwolf | Jan 16, 2016 |
One of the later ones in the series --Joe Leaphorn is retired, Jim CHee is happily married to Bernie Manuelito (ending some very frustrating earlier romances); Chee is led nback to an unsolved case involving a really nasty villain ( )
  antiquary | Jun 10, 2015 |
This was one of my favorite books. True, it seems that the bad guy was pointed out early and there wasn't much to wonder about. What I liked the most was the history and cultural similarities between the Hmong and Navajos, and how LT Leaphorn and Tommy hit is off, There was the usual history lesson about the Navajos, focusing on the Long Walk from Bosque Redondo, and a "Woven Sorrow" rug, supposedly burned in a gallery fire but winds up in a magazine photo. The "Shapeshifter" is actually a criminal who seems to continually be reinventing himself. One of the most evil antagonists Leaphorn has faced ( )
  MorrisE.Graham | Jan 2, 2015 |
The last of the Chee & Leaphorn books. Great series but average book. It starts off well but then gets pedantic mid-way through and is wrapped up in quite obvious fashion. ( )
  JBreedlove | Jan 16, 2014 |
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This book is dedicated to Anne Margaret, Janet Marie, Anthony Grove, Jr., Steven August, Monica Mary, and Daniel Bernard listed in order of the date they arrived to brighten our lives.
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Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, retired, stopped his pickup about a hundred yards short of where he had intended to park, turned off the ignition, stared at Sergeant Jim Chee's trailer home, and reconsidered his tactics.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060563478, Mass Market Paperback)

Retirement has never sat well with former Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn. Now the ghosts of a still-unsolved case are returning to haunt him, reawakened by a photograph in a magazine spread of a one-of-a-kind Navajo rug, a priceless work of woven art that was supposedly destroyed in a suspicious fire many years earlier. The rug, commemorating one of the darkest and most terrible chapters in American history, was always said to be cursed, and now the friend who brought it to Leaphorn's attention has mysteriously gone missing.

With newly wedded officers Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito just back from their honeymoon, the legendary ex-lawman is on his own to pick up the threads of a crime he'd once thought impossible to untangle. And they're leading him back into a world of lethal greed, shifting truths, and changing faces, where a cold-blooded killer still resides.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:52 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Retired Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn returns to put together the clues from his last unsolved case--a mystery involving the disappearance of a priceless Navajo rug--without the help of Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito, who are on their honeymoon.

» see all 6 descriptions

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