The torch passes. Tony Hillerman created a vivid, vibrant and accurate fictitious universe around two characters: Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee. Hillerman did not shy away from aging his characters or evolving their lives. So it was at the time of his death that Lieutenant Leaphorn was retired but still very active as a consultant to Sergeant Chee, who frequently consulted the somewhat taciturn Leaphorn for his experienced insight and advice. Anne Hillerman, Tony’s daughter, has revived the iconic series, changing its focus just a bit while keeping the characters true to the heritage that her father established. The result is a book that should be enjoyed by old and new fans alike.
"I will confess to having missed the Leaphorn & Chee series, so it is a pleasure to see the characters revived with very little changing along the way."
The cover of SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER notes that it is “A Leaphorn & Chee Novel”; while this is not an inaccurate description, Hillerman goes a step beyond that by making Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manualito the primary focus of the book. Manualito, who is married to Chee, is the only witness to the attempted murder of an elderly and popular resident of the Reservation, though is able to provide only a limited description of the doer. That, plus the fact that she was unable to prevent the attempt, weighs on her throughout the book while driving her desire to investigate the case, even as she is removed from the investigation since she is a potential witness. As the victim barely clings to life, Manualito attempts to assist Chee, who has been placed in charge of the investigation, but continually finds herself getting deeper and deeper into it.
While trying to divine the motives of the would-be killer, Chee and Manualito soon conclude that the answer to the case might be found in one of Leaphorn’s old case files. Indeed, part of the answer is there, but the final solution rests very much in the present, where an attempt at ill-gotten profit carried out in the past is now coming back to haunt a perpetrator in ways they never anticipated. As the victim slowly slips beyond the veil, Manualito finds that, against orders, she has put herself directly in the crosshairs of a vengeful killer who will stop at nothing to escape justice.
I will confess to having missed the Leaphorn & Chee series, so it is a pleasure to see the characters revived with very little changing along the way. Hillerman does occasionally lapse into the error of explaining cultural concepts through conversations between characters who, in the real world, would not feel the need to elaborate on such matters to each other. This is particularly understandable in Hillerman’s case, given that she is the author of several excellent nonfiction works in which such a practice would be expected. Still, this is a minor quibble and does not detract from the enjoyment of SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER, which longtime fans of the series will rightfully welcome with open arms.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 17, 2013