by Anne Hillerman

Reviewer Rating:


Tony Hillerman's famous Navajo Nation Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee are back in this new novel, Spider Woman's Daughter. In it, his own daughter Anne takes up the series after her father's death. Like many long-time fans, I was thrilled to hear the series would continue, but nervous about whether it would live up to the standard of her father's enormously popular books.

As the title suggests, Anne Hillerman puts women front and center. Officer Bernadette Manuelito, who became Chee's wife in an earlier tale, stars in this tale. She witnesses the shooting of someone dear to many. After being put on a mandatory work leave, she works to support Chee  as much as possible in unraveling the tangled threads of the victim and the suspects' lives. She simultaneously navigates the web of connections in her own family as they deal with personal challenges. Leaphorn and Chee are still present and crucial to the story, but their inner lives and thoughts are no longer central.

Anne Hillerman is at her best in writing Bernie's character, evoking the physical and cultural landscape of the Navajo Nation, and weaving in the characters' memories of past cases that might bear on the current one. I found her at her weakest, unfortunately, in writing Chee (who felt one-dimensional and often not true to his earlier self) and in giving her characters credit as detectives. Too many times, she gave us obvious clues to a potential suspect's state or involvement, but every detective involved in the case missed the meaning of them.

So this novel was sometimes a pleasure and sometimes a disappointment. It felt enough like her dad's work that I was glad to return to this world, especially with the development of female characters (which was not her father's strong suit). But there were enough holes in the story and places where it didn't live up to the series' standards that I was frustrated. Hopefully these were just the weaknesses of a first-time novelist, and as Anne Hillerman continues the series her writing will develop as well.

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