In Other Words Song of the Lion by Anne Hiller­man

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - by Anne Hiller­man, HarperCollins, 304 pages

Of­fi­cer Ber­nadette Manuelito is off duty, en­joy­ing a bas­ket­ball game at Shiprock High School, when a car ex­plodes in the park­ing lot. A body is found in the wreck­age, and sud­denly the night turns from one of re­lax­ation and com­mu­nity bond­ing into one of fear and tragedy. Manuelito springs into crowd-con­trol ac­tion in Anne Hiller­man’s Song of the Lion, the au­thor’s third novel to con­tinue her father Tony Hiller­man’s best­selling mys­tery se­ries set among the Navajo peo­ple in the Four Cor­ners area of New Mex­ico, Ari­zona, and Utah.

At the time of the ex­plo­sion, the Shiprock Chief­tains had been com­pet­ing against an as­sort­ment of alumni all-stars — one of whom, Aza Palmer, owns the ex­pen­sive car that blew up with a per­son in­side it. Though that man’s iden­tity is un­known, law en­force­ment sus­pects Palmer was tar­geted be­cause of his job as a me­di­a­tor; he is cur­rently in­volved in con­tentious ne­go­ti­a­tions over the po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ment of a lux­ury re­sort near the Grand Canyon. Since Palmer could be the tar­get of nu­mer­ous op­pos­ing fac­tions, Manuelito’s hus­band, Sgt. Jim Chee, is as­signed to ac­com­pany him to a big meet­ing in Tuba City, Ari­zona, for his own safety. Chee is not thrilled with hav­ing pulled body­guard duty. Manuelito drives out to join him when she is given a few days off af­ter work­ing the crime scene at the high school, but her mind never strays far from her own work. As hus­band and wife’s re­spec­tive cases in­ter­sect and grow more com­pli­cated, they even­tu­ally turn to the wis­dom of the nowre­tired Lt. Joe Leaphorn, who suf­fers im­paired com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills due to a brain in­jury from be­ing shot in Hiller­man’s debut novel, Spi­der Woman’s

Daugh­ter (Harper, 2013). For long­time fans of Tony Hiller­man’s Leaphorn and Chee se­ries, Song of the Lion is as re­li­ably in­trigu­ing and heart­felt as pre­vi­ous books. Nu­mer­ous ref­er­ences to past cases will deepen the nar­ra­tive by al­low­ing loyal read­ers to tap their stored knowl­edge, but such back­ground is not cru­cial to en­joy­ment. New read­ers can count on an em­pha­sis on Navajo cul­ture with an un­der­stand­ing of in­ter­per­sonal dy­nam­ics that means the dif­fer­ence be­tween solv­ing cases and hit­ting dead ends in In­dian Coun­try. Navajo fam­ily val­ues are front and cen­ter, as the im­por­tant roles of grand­par­ents, aunts, and un­cles are not only ex­plained for the reader but made vi­tal to the struc­ture of the story. We spend time with Manuelito’s mother and sis­ter, the former of whom is a skilled weaver now teach­ing the craft to oth­ers, and the lat­ter of whom is get­ting past a trou­bled early adult­hood and tak­ing col­lege classes.

Hiller­man touches on a num­ber of con­tem­po­rary so­cial is­sues in Song of the Lion, in­clud­ing an­tipo­lice bias, protest cul­ture, con­ser­va­tion, Na­tive sovereignty, and cor­po­rate ex­ploita­tion, as well as some that hit closer to home, namely the ways in which ad­dic­tion frac­tures fam­i­lies. There is a ten­der stu­dious­ness to Manuelito that sets her apart from many fe­male leads of re­cent South­west­ern mys­tery nov­els; she is not a hard-bit­ten cynic or a dam­aged hot­head, plow­ing gut-first into ran­dom lo­cal crimes, con­se­quences be damned, but rather a trained po­lice of­fi­cer who is proud of her ca­reer. Her re­la­tion­ship with Chee is one of equals, a model of re­spect that il­lus­trates the es­sen­tial kind­ness of the story. Though the novel makes a clear de­lin­eation be­tween right and wrong, no one is painted as be­yond re­demp­tion. — Jennifer Levin

Anne Hiller­man reads from “Song of the Lion” at Col­lected Works Book­store (202 Gal­is­teo St., 505-988-4226) on Tues­day, April 11, at 6 p.m. The book is on sale April 11.

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