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VINE VOICEon 13 January 2010
Set in 1970's Arizona amongst the reservations of several Native American tribes especially the Zuni, Navajo and Apache. Following the disappearance of a teenage Zuni boy who was preparing for a ceremonial rite of passage, suspicion falls on his supposed friend the 'crazy' George Bowlegs. As a body is discovered the full range of law enforcement falls on the area. This includes one of Mr Hillerman's recurring heroes Lt Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Indian Tribal Police and extends right up to the FBI.

Did Bowlegs commit the crime? Can he be tracked down by Leaphorn? Why are the FBI bringing in drugs specialists? The crime element is thus part manhunt, part police procedural and part whodunnit.

The real stars of the book are the beautiful descriptions of the Arizona landscape and the author's intimacy with Native American culture. At first this is a little overwhelming and the short opening chapter required a couple of re-reads given the flurry of Native terms. There are some nice cultural counterpoints, especially the comparison of the secrecy of Zuni ceremonial details and the sanctity of the Catholic confession; both of which hinder the successful solution of the crime.

The crime element was , in truth, relatively mundane. There are only a couple of viable suspects and it really feels like this is the backdrop to the book rather than its driving force. The interest is in what it tells you about this way of life and for that you should be educated and entertained.
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on 27 October 1998
Dance Hall of the Dead is the first Hillerman novel I have read. The plot succeeded in keeping me interested enough to finish the book, but it can only be categorized as a fair mystery novel. The driving force behind the plot is the protagonist's (Joe Leaphorn's) search for the missing Navajo boy and consequently the truth behind the murder mystery of a young Zuni boy. His search for the boy, however, only half-heartedly interested me, and the end of his search, as well as the story itself, was a big disappointment. The reader isn't allowed to partake in the pleasure of the murder culprit being captured, nor are we to ever know what becomes of Susanne or Ted Isaacs, the other two characters in the book greatly affected by the series of events.
One positive aspect of Hillerman's novels, however, is the way in which he incorporates facts about Native Americans in the Southwest. Part of the time reading Dance Hall of the Dead, I thought I was reading a history text. Although I didn't think that Dance Hall of the Dead was an extraordinary book, I was nevertheless intrigued by the information provided on the Navajo and Zuni tribes.
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VINE VOICEon 23 January 2006
Twelve-year-old Ernesto Cata (Zuñi) is practicing to be the Fire God in a local ceremony. His best buddy George Bowlegs (Navaho) is a Zuñi wana-be.
Ernesto is missing and there is a pool of blood by his bike. The next day his buddy George runs off. It is up to Sgt. Joe Leaphorn to find the boys before anything happens to them (if it has not already.)
As with most of Hillerman’s novels everyone has different agendas and stories that overlap. There are alleged stolen artifacts form and archeological dig, and possibly a drug interest. They may or may not interact. We also get a good dose of Zuñi culture, and a feel that we are in the area.
Hillerman is nice enough to leave sufficient clues to let you figure out the mystery before Leaphorn and you then get to watch as he finally comes around to your way of thinking.
Another book by Hillerman “The Boy who Made Dragonfly” further describes the dance hall of the dead (Kothluwalawa.)
Author’s Note:
“In this book, the setting is genuine. The village of Zuñi and the landscape of the Zuñi reservation are depicted to the best of my ability. The characters are purely fictional. The view the reader receives of the Sha’lak’o religion is as it might be seen by a Navajo with an interest in ethnology. It does not pretend to be more than that.”
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 June 2015
I had forgotten just how interesting the author Tony Hillerman, 1925-2008, was and how different his novels were hen they first appeared. Between 1970-2006 he wrote eighteen ethnographic detective books set amongst the communities of Native American peoples in the American Southwest. His detectives are Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police. In the second in the series, published in 1973, the former is called in to investigate the disappearance of two teenage boys.

Since these are Ernesto Cata, a Zuñi who has been chosen to represent Shulawitsi, The Little Fire God, in a big celebration, and his Navajo friend, George Bowlegs, it immediately raises problems of jurisdiction and Leaphorn is asked to find the latter. Soon a body is found and the search centres on the remaining boy. Hillerman’s strength lies in his storytelling and in his ability to describe the peoples, their customs, religions and differing value systems, and landscapes of the region. This is achieved through the backgrounds of his detectives who, crucially, have both studied anthropology before joining the police. This allows them to present these elements in a very engaging and undidactic manner as they mull over the evidence, much of which is found through tracking and applying traditional knowledge, and ruminate on its significance.

In 1973 so many of today’s technological marvels were unknown and it is fascinating to see how difficult it was to pursue investigations speedily in the absence of, for example, DNA analyses to determine the origin of a pool of blood, and mobile telephones to communicate across the vast region over where the investigation unfolds. The author’s greatest skill in this and his other books is in presenting detailed information about the technicalities of Native American cultures and religions, and their differences.

Here the consequences the latter have their origin in the friendship between a Zuñi and a Navajo, and the tribal boundaries that cannot be crossed. Some Zuñis believe that a kachina (spirit) has taken revenge because one of the boys had communicated forbidden sacred Zuñi knowledge to his Navajo friend. Interestingly, the latter is seeking out information about other cultures and religions because of his failure to find spiritual depth within the Navajo tradition. Hillerman does not shirk from addressing alcoholism, poverty and bullying but does not overly focus on these either.

This cultural and religious diversity and conflict plays a major part in the investigation and is reflected in the teamwork between the investigation team, comprising Tribal Police of differing cultures and ‘white’ Americans from the Federal authorities. Into this mix the author adds a team of archeologists on the verge of rewriting accepted history, an FBI agent and, less successfully, a group of rather formulaic hippies. Through some of these he presents naïve opinions on Native Americans and their culture. Another perspective is presented through the dispassionate eyes of the non-religious but sympathetic Navajo, Leaphorn. In marked contrast, the author presents a Catholic priest who has lived in the region for decades and knows and admires the Native Americans.

It is all too easy to forget that the author is not a Native American as he paints a picture of the realities of everyday life and its problems for the tribal communities whose lives reflect the stark nature of the landscape. The plot, steeped in the supernatural, is not completely satisfactory but the author was still developing his characteristic style.

The detail on tracking, hunting, ceremonial events and the link between the real and spirit worlds is always integrated into the story. Leaphorn is very understated, contrasting with the immensity of the natural world. We learn surprisingly little about the policeman’s background, family and home life.
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VINE VOICEon 13 July 2013
Twelve-year-old Ernesto Cata (Zuñi) is practicing to be the Fire God in a local ceremony. His best buddy George Bowlegs (Navaho) is a Zuñi wana-be.

Ernesto is missing and there is a pool of blood by his bike. The next day his buddy George runs off. It is up to Sgt. Joe Leaphorn to find the boys before anything happens to them (if it has not already.)

As with most of Hillerman's novels everyone has different agendas and stories that overlap. There are alleged stolen artifacts form and archeological dig, and possibly a drug interest. They may or may not interact. We also get a good dose of Zuñi culture, and a feel that we are in the area.

Hillerman is nice enough to leave sufficient clues to let you figure out the mystery before Leaphorn and you then get to watch as he finally comes around to your way of thinking.

Another book by Hillerman "The Boy who Made Dragonfly" further describes the dance hall of the dead (Kothluwalawa.)

Author's Note:
"In this book, the setting is genuine. The village of Zuñi and the landscape of the Zuñi reservation are depicted to the best of my ability. The characters are purely fictional. The view the reader receives of the Sha'lak'o religion is as it might be seen by a Navajo with an interest in ethnology. It does not pretend to be more than that."

The Dark Wind (Jim Chee Novels)
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VINE VOICEon 6 July 2013
Twelve-year-old Ernesto Cata (Zuñi) is practicing to be the Fire God in a local ceremony. His best buddy George Bowlegs (Navaho) is a Zuñi wana-be.

Ernesto is missing and there is a pool of blood by his bike. The next day his buddy George runs off. It is up to Sgt. Joe Leaphorn to find the boys before anything happens to them (if it has not already.)

As with most of Hillerman's novels everyone has different agendas and stories that overlap. There are alleged stolen artifacts form and archeological dig, and possibly a drug interest. They may or may not interact. We also get a good dose of Zuñi culture, and a feel that we are in the area.

Hillerman is nice enough to leave sufficient clues to let you figure out the mystery before Leaphorn and you then get to watch as he finally comes around to your way of thinking.

Another book by Hillerman "The Boy who Made Dragonfly" further describes the dance hall of the dead (Kothluwalawa.)

Author's Note:
"In this book, the setting is genuine. The village of Zuñi and the landscape of the Zuñi reservation are depicted to the best of my ability. The characters are purely fictional. The view the reader receives of the Sha'lak'o religion is as it might be seen by a Navajo with an interest in ethnology. It does not pretend to be more than that."

The Dark Wind (Jim Chee Novels)
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VINE VOICEon 28 November 2005
Twelve-year-old Ernesto Cata (Zu'i) is practicing to be the Fire God in a local ceremony. His best buddy George Bowlegs (Navaho) is a Zu'i wana-be.

Ernesto is missing and there is a pool of blood by his bike. The next day his buddy George runs off. It is up to Sgt. Joe Leaphorn to find the boys before anything happens to them (if it has not already.)

As with most of Hillerman's novels everyone has different agendas and stories that overlap. There are alleged stolen artifacts form and archeological dig, and possibly a drug interest. They may or may not interact. We also get a good dose of Zu'i culture, and a feel that we are in the area.

Hillerman is nice enough to leave sufficient clues to let you figure out the mystery before Leaphorn and you then get to watch as he finally comes around to your way of thinking.

Another book by Hillerman "The Boy who Made Dragonfly" further describes the dance hall of the dead (Kothluwalawa.)

Author's Note:

"In this book, the setting is genuine. The village of Zu'i and the landscape of the Zu'i reservation are depicted to the best of my ability. The characters are purely fictional. The view the reader receives of the Sha'lak'o religion is as it might be seen by a Navajo with an interest in ethnology. It does not pretend to be more than that."
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VINE VOICEon 27 April 2015
Twelve-year-old Ernesto Cata (Zuñi) is practicing to be the Fire God in a local ceremony. His best buddy George Bowlegs (Navaho) is a Zuñi wana-be.

Ernesto is missing and there is a pool of blood by his bike. The next day his buddy George runs off. It is up to Sgt. Joe Leaphorn to find the boys before anything happens to them (if it has not already.)

As with most of Hillerman's novels everyone has different agendas and stories that overlap. There are alleged stolen artifacts form and archeological dig, and possibly a drug interest. They may or may not interact. We also get a good dose of Zuñi culture, and a feel that we are in the area.

Hillerman is nice enough to leave sufficient clues to let you figure out the mystery before Leaphorn and you then get to watch as he finally comes around to your way of thinking.

Another book by Hillerman "The Boy who Made Dragonfly" further describes the dance hall of the dead (Kothluwalawa.)

Author's Note:
"In this book, the setting is genuine. The village of Zuñi and the landscape of the Zuñi reservation are depicted to the best of my ability. The characters are purely fictional. The view the reader receives of the Sha'lak'o religion is as it might be seen by a Navajo with an interest in ethnology. It does not pretend to be more than that."
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VINE VOICEon 2 March 2005
Twelve-year-old Ernesto Cata (Zuñi) is practicing to be the Fire God in a local ceremony. His best buddy George Bowlegs (Navaho) is a Zuñi wana-be.
Ernesto is missing and there is a pool of blood by his bike. The next day his buddy George runs off. It is up to Sgt. Joe Leaphorn to find the boys before anything happens to them (if it has not already.)
As with most of Hillerman's novels everyone has different agendas and stories that overlap. There are alleged stolen artifacts form and archeological dig, and possibly a drug interest. They may or may not interact. We also get a good dose of Zuñi culture, and a feel that we are in the area.
Hillerman is nice enough to leave sufficient clues to let you figure out the mystery before Leaphorn and you then get to watch as he finally comes around to your way of thinking.
Another book by Hillerman "The Boy who Made Dragonfly" further describes the dance hall of the dead (Kothluwalawa.)
Author's Note:
"In this book, the setting is genuine. The village of Zuñi and the landscape of the Zuñi reservation are depicted to the best of my ability. The characters are purely fictional. The view the reader receives of the Sha'lak'o religion is as it might be seen by a Navajo with an interest in ethnology. It does not pretend to be more than that."
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on 5 April 1999
As far as mystery writers go, Tony Hillerman is one of the best I have read. Not only is the plot very interesting, but the information on the Indian culture and traditions makes this book more enticing.
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