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The Tale Teller: 09/18/19

The Tale Teller

The Tale Teller by Anne Hillerman is the twenty-third of the Navajo mysteries and the fifth one by Anne Hillerman. There are three intertwined mysteries: a missing donation, a jewelry thief on the loose, and a murder on a jogging trail.

Joe Leaphorn has been hired to find two missing items from a donation to the Navajo Nation museum. The one of most urgency is a bííł, a woven traditional dress. The missing one purports to have ties to Juanita Manuelito and the Long Walk.

Jim Chee, meanwhile, is chasing down leads in the missing jewelry case. His big clue is a man now living near Canyon de Chelly who recognized a missing bolo for sale at a flea market near Window Rock.

Bernie Manuelito while jogging sees a dog staying close to the edge of the trail. He's barking and acting nervous. Thinking a hiker or jogger has gotten injured, she investigates. Instead she finds the body of a man who has been shot.

The three cases are interconnected. Clues from one lead to clues to another, and so forth. Anne's mysteries are more grounded in the here and now than her father's were, even when dealing with items of historic significance. By this I mean, her treatment of the characters — major and minor — is realistic. They are human beings and even when their lives are grounded in tradition, they aren't superstitious — not like nearly everyone is in Tony's books.

But, like Elizabeth Peter's Vicky Bliss mysteries, the series has been running long enough that one has to accept that it's happening in the "now-now." Peters described the logic behind keeping things in the present, even when it's impossible in her introduction to The Laughter of Dead Kings. (2008)

Peter's series began in 1973 and ran until 2008 — 35 years. The Navajo mysteries started in 1970 with The Blessing Way. That's a forty-nine year run. From the very beginning, Leaphorn was a widower, well established in his career as a detective. Let's assume he's forty in 1970. By now he'd be 89, bare minimum.

Jim Chee arrives in Listening Woman (1978) as the rookie. Assuming he's twenty, he'd be sixty-nine now — not the young newly-wed or even middle aged newly-wed he's described as Anne's books.

Of the two, Joe is the closest to what his actual age would be. Jim, sharing the majority of the investigating with his wife, is given the benefit of the doubt, and kept younger than would have to be.

In the long run it doesn't matter that the two are living and working in the now-now. The mysteries are fun and it's a pleasure to see the characters grow and evolve into three dimensional people.

Five stars

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