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Tuesday 9 December 2014

‘Spider Woman’s Daughter’ by Anne Hillerman

Published by Harpercollins,
10 October 2014.
ISBN: 9787-0-06-227048-1

When Tony Hillerman died in 2008, at the grand old age of 83, he left big shoes to fill. His books set in America’s magical South-West, featuring Navajo cops Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee, were classics; without a drop of Navajo blood in his own veins, he succeeded in capturing the spirit and ambience of a race and a way of life which holds mystery enough to most people even without crimes to solve, in a manner which gained the respect and affection of Navajo people and the rest of the world.

Now his daughter Anne, herself a noted journalist and non-fiction writer, has picked up the story where he left off. Spider Woman’s Daughter is Officer Bernadette Manuelito, wife of Jim Chee and an adept police officer in her own right.

Bernadette played a supporting role in several of Tony Hillerman’s novels; here she takes centre stage. Officially on leave after witnessing a near-fatal shooting, she can’t bear to be sidelined while her colleagues investigate, and follows an intriguing trail of clues they have chosen to ignore.
While her fellow officers chase up some more obvious suspects (and crime fiction devotees know the obvious suspect is never the right one!) Bernie’s trail takes her around a large part of new Mexico, including a Santa Fe museum and a fascinating archaeological site.

The plot is relatively simple; I confess I had sussed whodunit some time before Bernie did. But that detracts not at all from the book’s qualities. There is much else to enjoy, including quirky characters galore, including plenty of strong women. Bernie herself is more rounded and complete than in her earlier appearances; then there’s Mrs Benally, a voluble, determined Navajo matron; Darleen, Bernie’s talented but wilful teenage sister; Maxie the museum curator; Ellie the maverick archaeologist; and plenty more. Like her father, Anne Hillerman has the knack of getting under her characters’ skins, of walking in their shoes and speaking their language – sometimes literally.
The book’s main strength, though, is the powerful portrayal of New Mexico’s stark, beautiful landscape, and the Navajo attitudes and way of life. Also like her father, the author makes the reader feel this is how it really is in this remote, somewhat alien part of the world.

Tony Hillerman left big shoes indeed. But his daughter has proved herself more than able to fill them.
Reviewer Lynne Patrick
Anne Hillerman’s debut novel, Spider Woman's Daughter, is a mystery set in the Southwest, including the Navajo Nation and Santa Fe. The book follows the further adventures of the characters Tony Hillerman made famous: Jim Chee, Joe Leaphorn and Bernadette Manuelito. The novel, released by HarperCollins, received the Spur Award from Western Writers of America for the Best First Novel of 2013. Anne also is the author of the award-winning Tony Hillerman's Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn and eight other books.Together with husband/photographer Don Strel, she worked on a project with the University of New Mexico Press---an introduction and new photographs for a re-issue of mystery giant Tony Hillerman's book of non-fiction essays, The Great Taos Bank Robbery. In her introduction, Anne talks about growing up as one of Hillerman's six children. She and Don also collaborated on Gardens of Santa Fe, which was a finalist for the prestigious Eric Hoffer Award, as well as earning a New Mexico Book Award and first place honors from the National Federation of Press Women and New Mexico Press Women. The duo presents on their books frequently. Tony Hillerman's Landscape had received many awards and was honored as the best photo book of 2010 by the Mountains and Plains Booksellers.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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