cover image Talking God

Talking God

Tony Hillerman. HarperCollins Publishers, $17.95 (239pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016118-7

Hillerman's latest is not quite up to his best standards, but it's still a wonderfully readable, involving mystery. Here he sets Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee in Washington, D.C., as each uses vacation time to follow separate cases that will connect in a clash of violence at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History. Chee has come at the request of Janet Pete, a Navajo lawyer with a case that involves a ceremonial mask of Yeibichai, or Talking God, maternal grandfather of all the other Navajo gods, and a museum curator named Henry Highhawk, who claims Navajo ancestry and wants to be included on tribal rolls. Leaphorn's interest rises from a puzzling homicide case--an unidentified corpse found near Gallup, N.M., with a note mentioning a pending Yeibichai ceremony. Just as Leaphorn's tenacity reveals the dead man was a leftist Chilean terrorist, Highhawk is killed (in a spooky late-night scene in the Museum) and the pivotal role of the Talking God mask comes into play. Leaphorn's grief over the recent death of his wife, Chee's sorrow at the end of an impossible love affair, both men's sense of alienation in the capital city's urban sophistication suffuse this slim, somewhat contrived, tale with palpable melancholy. 150,000 copy first printing; $150,000 ad/promo; Mysterious Book Club dual main selection; BOMC and QPBC alternates; author tour. (June)