In 1956, an airplane crash left the remains of 172 passengers scattered among the majestic cliffs of the Grand Canyon—including an arm attached to a briefcase containing a fortune in gems. Half a century later, one of the missing diamonds has reappeared . . . and the wolves are on the scent.
Former Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is coming out of retirement to help exonerate a slow, simple kid accused of robbing a trading post. Billy Tuve claims he received the diamond he tried to pawn from a mysterious old man in the canyon, and his story has attracted the dangerous attention of strangers to the Navajo lands—one more interested in a severed limb than in the fortune it was handcuffed to; another willing to murder to keep lost secrets hidden. But nature herself may prove the deadliest adversary, as Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee follow a puzzle—and a killer—down into the dark realm of Skeleton Man.
Joe Leaphorn, former Navajo tribal police lieutenant, is not a happy retiree. So when his successor asks him to look into how a young Hopi named Billy Tuve came by a valuable diamond the boy tried to pawn for a fraction of its worth, Joe finds himself involved in a five decade old mystery. It dates back to a plane crash in the Grand Canyon, one that took the life of a man whose putative daughter also has an interest in the diamond; it could lead her to her father's remains, from which she hopes to extract enough DNA to establish her birthright. For good measure, Hillerman adds a couple of villains determined to beat her to the site of the crash, a cache of other diamonds long since given up for lost in the Canyon's watery depths, and a Hopi ritual that's kept the site secret for years. It's a good yarn, well but twice told; Hillerman sets it up in a chronologically confusing opening chapter, in which Joe spins the story for a couple of former law-enforcement colleagues--not just to entertain or enlighten them but to demonstrate what he calls his "Navajo belief in universal connections. The cause leads to inevitable effect. The entire cosmos being an infinitely complicated machine all working together."
Hillerman is a name-brand writer with a huge and well deserved following. His evocation of the landscape of the Southwest is as compelling as it ever was, and many familiar characters from the other 18 novels in this prize-winning series appear here, notably Sergeant Jim Chee and border patrol officer Bernie Manuelito, the woman Chee hopes to marry. Joe Leaphorn remains his most fully-realized protagonist; his perspective on life, destiny, and the sometimes uneasy truce between Native Americans and whites gives this series a unique place in the genre. But as evidenced by his latest, Hillerman's hero needs more than a retired duffer's memories to keep him vital and alive, even for his most dedicated fans. --Jane Adams