cover image Hunting Badger

Hunting Badger

Tony Hillerman. HarperCollins Publishers, $26 (275pp) ISBN 978-0-06-019289-1

Picking up a new Hillerman book has the high comfort level of revisiting a favorite old Western hotel like the Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe or the Ahwani at Yosemite--the accommodations will always be first class and the scenery spectacular. Not that Hillerman ignores the passage of time: his two Navajo cops, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, age and change as we all do. There's a moment in the novel when Chee meets with his retired former boss at the Anasazi Inn dining room in Farmington, N. Mex. ""He had looked right past the corner table and the stocky old duffer sitting there with a plump middle-aged woman without recognizing Joe Leaphorn.... He had seen the Legendary Lieutenant in civilian attire before, but the image he carried in his mind was of Leaphorn in uniform."" As for the prickly Sergeant Chee, he has to contend with physical problems as well as with the end of one romance and the beginning of another--not to mention the very real possibility of being picked off by a sniper during the search for the men who robbed a casino owned by the Ute tribe. In a rare author's note, Hillerman talks about an actual 1998 case in which the FBI turned the killing of a Colorado police officer into a gigantic fiasco. The shadow of that failed investigation hangs over the search in this book, leading to many anti-FBI jibes (""If the Federal Bureau of Ineptitude says it, it must be true,"" another retired cop tells Leaphorn). As usual in recent Hillerman books, the action goes on mostly inside the minds of his two lead characters. But there is one splendid helicopter ride into Gothic Creek Canyon that should speed up the calmest heart, several new insights into the mysteries of Navajo culture and a story with enough twists and surprises to make readers glad they checked in. Major ad/promo; 15-city TV satellite tour; simultaneous HarperAudio. (Nov.)