three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-The Shape ShifterAmerican tribal policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee return for their 19th adventure (after 2004’s Skeleton Man). Though Leaphorn has officially retired from the tribal police force, a picture of a Navajo rug cut from the magazine Luxury Living reminds him of a similar rug, one commemorating the Navajo Nation’s "Long Walk" home, which was supposedly destroyed, along with one of the FBI’s most wanted, years earlier. If the valuable rug survived, wonders Leaphorn, could the criminal have as well? With some help from Chee and his new bride, Leaphorn searches for a killer who can seemingly disappear at will and turn himself into someone else.
HarperCollins. 288 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060563451

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"After a few sluggish novels, it’s great to see Tony Hillerman return to top form with The Shape Shifter. … The book is filled with fascinating Indian lore and the plot gallops to its satisfying conclusion." Michele Ross

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Hillerman, a student of history, a former journalist and teacher, is deeply taken with the Southwest’s intriguing mix of modern and traditional cultures. The vivid exploration of these interests through the characters and the setting of The Shape Shifter make this another of his books likely to cross over from the mystery genre to find wide general popularity." Irene Wanner

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Like all the great storytellers, from Homer on down, Tony Hillerman knows that every dark and twisted tale of murder can be traced back to its mythic origins. … Hillerman’s lyrical novel is as much about recovering these lost legends—and the existential purpose they offer an aging hero in recoil from ‘the retirement world’—as it is about bringing a criminal to justice." Marilyn Stasio

Orlando Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Tony Hillerman’s leisurely style of storytelling again examines the transformation myth of Navajo lore, where witches escape danger by reinventing themselves. Once again with The Shape Shifter, the old master opens the doors to an ancient culture while blending it with a chilling story of modern evil." Ann Hellmuth

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The gentle style of this laconic author and his even more laconic Leaphorn are immensely appealing, as are his insights into Navajo behavior, such as a reluctance to interrupt when anyone is speaking. … For readers bent on the whodunit aspect, the title offers a whopping clue, but The Shape Shifter has more to offer than mystery." Philippa Stockley

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Aside from a shift backward in time at the start of Chapter 2, it’s a simple, linear story that plays out predictably, albeit with a tiny flourish of surprise at the end. … If there’s a problem with Shape Shifter, it’s that it’s too much of the Hillerman genre."

Entertainment Weekly 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Hillerman’s tale of an ancient rug and a killer believed to be long dead is nicely colored with background about Native American mythology, but his plot is a tad on the slow side." Clark Collis

Critical Summary

Fans of the Leaphorn/Chee mysteries will delight in seeing how the characters have evolved. Leaphorn is retired and Chee recently married, and though both are showing signs of age, they are no less willing (or able) to tackle some heady crimes. Blending Navajo legend with good old-fashioned suspense, Hillerman also offers a treatise on the meaning of life. He uses the central image of shifting shapes—the fluidity of identity—to fuel Leaphorn’s inner monologue about fitting in neither here nor there. Careful readers may solve the mystery before Leaphorn, but the wonder of this novel lies in the way in which Leaphorn reaches the, perhaps, inevitable conclusion.