Many of you are familiar with mystery author Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn and Chee series, murder mysteries which take place in New Mexico and in the Navajo nation. Tony Hillerman died in 2008, and his daughter, Anne, realized that while she was grieving her father, she was also grieving the loss of more books. She and Tony had discussed a book with Bernie Manualito in the lead role, after the young policewoman marries Jim Chee. Anne decided to write the book, and the result is Spider Woman’s Daughter.
Bernie is at a breakfast with her colleagues from the Navajo Nation police force when she takes a call from her husband, Jim Chee. While they are talking, she sees the legendary retired inspector Joe Leaphorn, a man who has been a grandfather to her, leave the restaurant and head out to his car. Appalled, she sees another car squeal into the parking lot and hears the crack of gunfire. She sprints to the scene, to find Joe Leaphorn lying in a pool of blood.
He’s alive but just barely. As he’s loaded into an ambulance, Bernie promises him that she’ll find out who shot him, and she, Chee and Captain Largo, who heads up the investigation, are soon busy at work. Largo puts Bernie on administrative leave, normal procedure after witnessing a shooting to one so close to her, but she chafes at the restrictions and keeps finding ways round it. A visit to Leaphorn’s house finds that his longtime companion, Louisa, is gone, and she’s left a very cryptic message referring to an argument and now is nowhere to be found.
In addition to dealing with the investigation into Leaphorn’s shooting, Bernie also spends time with her mother and younger sister, who live about an hour away. Her mother’s health is deteriorating and her sister seems to spend all her time out drinking with friends, instead of caring for her mother and attending school.
As Bernie and Chee delve into Leaphorn’s past searching for someone with a vendetta against Leaphorn, they also investigate his work into insurance fraud of some rare antique pots, one-of-a-kind work from a people long gone. As they pull together disparate pieces of his past, they stumble upon someone who is willing to kill and keep killing in order to stay hidden, with a way of life intact.
As with her father’s books, Hillerman does an excellent job of creating a sense of time and place. Her descriptions of the beauty of the Navajo Nation, its canyons and creeks, its history as shown in pottery and weavings, is evocative and appealing. Spider Woman’s Daughter is a worthy successor of the original Leaphorn and Chee books, and fans of the series will be thrilled to know it will be continued, this time with a beguiling new protagonist.