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A-SkeletonManIn Hillerman’s 19th Leaphorn-Chee novel, Joe Leaphorn, a former Navajo tribal police lieutenant, comes out of retirement to solve another crime. This time, a young Hopi boy (a cousin of Leaphorn’s colleague Jim Chee) tries to hock a valuable diamond. The case leads Leaphorn back to 1956 and a devastating plane crash over the Grand Canyon. Enter a possible heiress, a few villains, and some Native American spirits, and Leaphorn’s got more than a simple crime on his hands. As people and histories collide, his "Navajo belief in universal connections" comes to the fore.
HarperCollins. 241 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060563443

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"No other writer of American mysteries makes his yearly literary task seem so effortless, while providing so much enjoyment to his loyal readers."
Gary Dretzka

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"But with more on his mind than adventure, Hillerman also manages to illustrate how myths are made—and kept fresh—by people who need to believe in them. … No wonder Hillerman’s stories never grow old. Like myths, they keep evolving with the telling." Marilyn Stasio

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The story is satisfying, but Hillerman’s gift for characterization—not to mention his penchant for illuminating arcane aspects of Native American culture and customs—puts the real meat on Skeleton Man." Tom Sinclair

People 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The book isn’t among the very best in Hillerman’s 34-year-old series … but it’s a worthy addition and, by any standard, a gem." James Ireland

Denver Post 2 of 5 Stars
"His mysteries are most compelling when he keeps the stuff about white guys to a minimum, and there’s just too much here about the bad guys. Moreover, Leaphorn has been marginalized." Sandra Dallas

Oregonian 2 of 5 Stars
"But the spark that made Hillerman’s early books so special has gone out. … [he] doesn’t build any suspense before staging the most obvious, least menacing flash flood in the history of the Grand Canyon." Jeff Baker

Critical Summary

Hillerman, whose crime fiction bespeaks of Native Americans’ rich history, once again mines the Southwest for a story that intricately links tribal mysticism, desert landscapes, and contemporary culture. Devoted readers will find the usual mix of compelling characters, including a Paiute mystic, a Hopi, and the Skeleton Man (the Death Kachina, whose myth Hillerman brings up to date). Though Hillerman is a first-class storyteller, critics agree Skeleton Man is not his best. Leaphorn (he is, after all, retired) takes a back seat to the bad guys. The 1956 airline disaster provides for an excellent story, but it has too many loose ends— and too little suspense.

Suggested by the Critics

Coyote Waits (1990): Delving deep into Navajo culture, Hillerman writes about a local shaman who is charged with the murder of Jim Chee’s friend. But the shaman isn’t talking, and his trial may reveal deeper mysteries.