It's not on the agenda for this year, or even next year, but while
I still have all of my wits about me, I want to sit down and read
all of Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels in
chronological order. Hillerman has masterfully evolved both of
these characters over the past couple of decades, introducing
Leaphorn, then Chee, and having them meet at respectful loggerheads
and gradually develop a mutual admiration as their respective
worlds evolve and change. Hillerman has done this so well that one
would think he had everything planned out before he even set the
first word to paper lo those many years ago, though that seems
impossible. No matter. Hillerman remains unrivaled in his ability
to capture the people and culture --- and the nuances of both ---
of the American Southwest.
THE SINISTER PIG, Hillerman's latest novel, finds Leaphorn
adjusting to retirement and life as a widower, while Jim Chee
investigates the mysterious death of a stranger on the edge of the
Jicarella Apache natural gas field. Though the Navajo Tribal Police
have jurisdiction, the FBI quickly moves in and classifies the
incident as a hunting accident. Chee, however, is not satisfied.
The victim was not dressed for hunting and was stripped of
identification. The proximity of his body to the natural gas field
indicates that he might have been investigating charges that
billions of dollars from the sale of gas have been embezzled from
the Indian Tribal royalty trust. But if that was the case, for whom
was he conducting the investigation?
The stakes become personal for Chee as he finds that photographs
taken by Bernie Manuelito may have some bearing on the matter.
Manuelito, a former member of Chee's squad and now with the Border
Patrol, took the photos in the course of her investigation of
suspicious activity around a ranch in southern New Mexico. She is
unaware, however, that her photographs tie in with Chee's case and
put her in terrible danger from an unexpected source. Chee must
rely on his own knowledge, as well as Leaphorn's wise counsel and
connections, if he is to resolve the mystery of the dead stranger
and save Manuelito's life.
THE SINISTER PIG contains all of the elements that Hillerman is
known for --- the interplay between Leaphorn and Chee, the strong
characterization, and the intimate knowledge of Indian tribal
culture and relationships. Chee is a particularly subtle delight
here, as he struggles to come to grips with his feelings for
Manuelito and his almost painful inability to articulate
The most significant aspect of THE SINISTER PIG, however, is the
villain of the piece who gives this novel its name. A sinister pig
is one who has more than he or she can use, but still wants more.
The shadowy Rawley Winsor, in this case, is the sinister pig, and
he is one of the more interesting adversaries you'll encounter in
literature this year. And his assistant, the enigmatic Budge,
practically makes the book all by himself. One almost gets the
feeling that THE SINISTER PIG could easily have been twice the
length of its 224 pages, that the story wants to burst out of its
binding with more that could be told. Regardless, THE SINISTER PIG
remains a worthy addition to Hillerman's canon.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011