Tony Hillerman released 18 novels in the Leaphorn/Chee series periodically over almost four decades from his first, The Blessing Way/1970, to The Shape Shifter/2006. Hillerman died at 83 in 2008 but in the 90’s he already appeared to be in questionable health. In the pre-digital era they had this thing called hard bound books where the custom was to have a full page, high quality, obviously posed photo on the back flap of the dust jacket covering the book. My wife and I were living in Hillerman's Indian Country at the time and were dedicated fans having already noticed his seeming deterioration from one photo to another. We would study each new release’s shot like Kremlinologists with their Mayday photos of the Soviet leadership parked in the reviewing stands. And parked is the right word when we saw one release. In it a pale, weak looking Hillerman was shown in a desert setting seemingly propped up against a large rock that looked like it was the only thing holding him up. We pegged him in our minds as soon to be deceased but he was tougher than he looked and had a decade and several novels left in him. That said The Fallen Man (#12/1996) presages an impending decline in the timelessness of his work with only The First Eagle (#13/1998) and Hunting Badger (#14/1999) plus an honorable mention for his last Leaphorn/Chee entry, The Shape Shifter (#18/2006) continuing the standard the best of his previous work embodied. The Fallen Man opens with the discovery of a mountain climber’s corpse near the summit of the famous Shiprock. The scene quickly shifts to the trials and tribulations of Jim Chee who is engaged to an obviously inappropriate Janet Pete, who is an east coast preppie, museum going, classical concert attending, buyer of modern art. In stark contrast, Chee is the classic innocent, raised in a sheep camp and the traditional ways of his tribe which he still does his best to honor. However trying to impress Pete has lead Chee to put his dream of being a healer in the tradition of his people on hold and instead accept a promotion to Acting Lieutenant, heading up an investigation unit. This does have the saving grace of introducing us to a budding new arrival, Officer Bernadette Manuelito, who quickly becomes a series regular. Tasked with investigating rustling you know Chee will eventually bump into Joe Leaphorn who is going stir crazy with his wife recently passed away and only a few months into his retirement. Fortune smiles with a lawyer hiring him for some fact finding which will be Leaphorn's initial foray as a private detective in the future. For aficionados of the interaction between these two leads watching the changed, almost arrogant Leaphorn of the past turning tentative and less demanding with Chee is a subtle treat for the reader as the relationship morphs into one with more equality as Leaphorn's respect for Chee grows while Chee gains confidence. Classic Hillerman slow windup to a faster paced satisfying ending. Beguiling world building, standout characters and lots of heart make this a book worth rereading every few years.
$7.99 Kindle book price divided by Amazon typical read time of 4 hours, 41 minutes=$1.71average hourly reading cost