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The Cave of Bones: 04/28/18

The Cave of Bones

Cave of Bones by Anne Hillerman is the 22nd of the Navajo mysteries, and her fourth one. This one has Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito working on separate missing persons cases.

Bernie's case involves a missing camp counselor who has failed to return after bringing back a girl who had wandered away from her campsite during an overnight solo. Chee meanwhile is looking for a man who was last seen doing landscaping jobs but hasn't returned now that it's the winter season.

Jim Leaphorn, meanwhile, is recovered enough now to be able to do the research Bernie and Chee need while working out in the field. While it's nice to see him doing better, if this series continues, Leaphorn will eventually need to die to keep any sense of realism. Or Hillerman will just have to decide that the characters are living in the "now now" like Elizabeth Peters did with her Vicky Bliss series.

The set up of Cave of Bones reads like The Wailing Wind (book 15) in the setting of a Thief of Time (book 8). There are old remains and new remains, missing people, and gossip getting in the way of the investigations.

But the big difference here is that Anne Hillerman has a much better grasp on the characters and setting than her father ever did. Hillerman originally started the series as a gimmick, a way to set his mysteries apart from others.

As his series gained readership and the attention of the Navajo Nation, he at least recognized that his initial portrayals were pretty shitty and he did his best to fix his mistakes. Jim Chee was part of that effort (and a way to have a character that Hillerman had control over when it looked like he had lost Leaphorn to the movie and tv studios).

But Jim's traditional beliefs and his studying to be a haatali come across a lot of times as exotic tourism. Nearly every book has superstition, fears of the supernatural putting the investigations on hold. Anne Hillerman, working with the same characters, same setting, same traditions, doesn't fall into this trap. Joe, Jim, Bernie and everyone else act like people. Their reactions to things, while couched in tradition, are also rounded by common sense.

So this book doesn't waste time on blaming chindi and skinwalkers. Instead it builds suspense on the foibles of personal shortcomings and with the harsh changeability of the landscape.

Five stars

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