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Dance Hall of the Dead: 02/11/23

Dance Hall of the Dead

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman and George Guidall (1973) is the second of the Navajo Mysteries. Three years have passed between the first and second in publication dates, though the mystery itself doesn't make a point of establishing how much time has elapsed.

It opens with a Diné boy who is interested in joining the Zuñi as an initiate because his best friend is Zuñi. He sees what he believes is a bird spirit and then he vanishes. As he's Diné, Leaphorn is sent to find him.

In the mix of all of this is an archeological dig site with some sketchy business. The argument that the same people who were fastidious in their arrowhead making would evolve to make the more common, quickly rendered ones as their environment changed sounds like a good one. But it's the site's paranoia about contamination and the researcher's overall secrecy that suggests something else is afoot.

The big question then is how do the missing boys, as well as some other bodies Leaphorn discovers during his investigation tie back to the dig? In the early mysteries from this series, the answer is usually a white person of means. So then it's a matter of figuring out which one.

This mystery overall seems less grounded in the time period it was written. The situations described are more generic, being driven by human frailties than specific events. There are a few details that set it apart from later books: Leaphorn's wife is still alive, Leaphorn is youngish, there's no Chee, there's certainly no Manuelita, nor are there any modern communication devices, meaning Leaphorn is often cut off from the rest of the world when he's in some very remote areas.

The third book is Listening Woman (1978). The audiobook is currently unavailable, although I probably have a copy backed up. I just need to find it and decide if it's worth the effort.

Four stars

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