very little closure.
I've read this book twice now, and I would have to say that it is definitely one of Hillerman's better ones. I love the way Hillerman has characterized Chee with very simple sentences, reminiscent of Hemingway. They make Chee seem like a very uncomplicated, spiritual man, and a very thoughtful person. His verbal responses to some of the people in the book show his cleverness, especially when addressing the Hopi from the Fog Clan, but also show how guarded he can be in his responses. He's a very intelligent man, not your average cop, who is good at tracking and can read impressions left in the ground. To be expected, Chee also takes the tales told by his elders very, very seriously.
I also thought it was interesting to see a glimmer of prejudice from the Hopi people towards Chee. This was something different and a bit unexpected, but from a logical standpoint it makes sense. The Navajo and Hopi people have been enemies long before there were white men who wanted to settle the area.
As I understand it, Hillerman has been praised for his portrayal of Navajo culture. I would think that, if he were making the whole thing up, he would be denounced instead. I found one review here almost bordering on insulting. It seems to me that Hillerman has either done as much research as he could (and that's not hard to do, considering that the Navajoes are the largest population group of Indians left in America--there's an anthropology joke that goes something like "A Navajo family consists of a father, a mother, two children and an anthropologist") or had friends that could give him the information he needs. Hillerman has skillfully woven what he knows into this book. He doesn't use myths lightly--every mention of a myth or legend has a reason for being there. He even weaves in knowledge of Navajo clans, and brings in its importance much later in the book. As I read his books, I get a sense of respect from Hillerman whenever he describes the Navajoes or their culture. He also never uses their culture as a backdrop, there is always a reason for its use.
I would also say that Hillerman may also have an insight into the Navajo way of thinking that most people don't. I would think that a traditional Navajo, raised on a reservation, would have a different mindset than one raised in a city. Reservations tend to be very isolated, as I recall from my visits to Arizona and Utah, so it doesn't surprise me if the Navajoes raised there have a different way of thinking as a result of being raised in a more traditional way. A child's basic patterns are set by age 5, which is long before a child attends school, so the Navajo mindset would be instilled at this point. I didn't find Chee's lack of understanding to be something that Hillerman made up. I thought it was an interesting difference in the way Bible-raised whites (which is where the "eye-for-an-eye" phrase comes from!) and Navajoes see the world.
As for the plot, it's certainly a tangled tale. It's interesting how, in the beginning of the book, Chee has a bunch of cases that don't seem related to each other, but by the end of the book they all tie together. There's only one that doesn't fit, but that just makes it seem more realistic.
I also liked the introduction of Cowby Dashee, although there isn't much characterization of him. I would like to know why he's called Cowboy, but there never was an explanation. His reluctance to give Chee information on Hopi customs emphasizes the Navajo-Hopi prejudice that is present in the book (and I would have to say that it does not detract from the book, but makes Chee's work harder).
The only thing I did not like about the book was the ending. Chee gets rid of the evidence, but that doesn't help in terms of how he was going to explain to Largo what he was doing at the Hopi village in the first place. Considering the type of ceremony taking place in the last part of the book, I'm wondering how Chee got out of the handcuffs. I would have liked to see Largo's reaction to Chee's disobedience. Although the mystery is solved by the end of the book, it still leaves Chee's situation hanging in the balance. He may be out of danger, but he's still between a rock an a hard place.
In all, though, I found this to be one of Hillerman's better novels. He still has a good eye for detail, which really brings these books to life.