Monday, November 18, 2013

Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman

I've missed Joe Leaphorn & Jim Chee, I really have, but when Tony Hillerman died in 2008 I resigned myself to their permanent absence. So, when I saw that Hillerman's daughter, Anne, had written "A Leaphorn and Chee Novel," I was tempted . . . tempted. Hillerman's daughter might know his work so well that she could step into his shoes. And I really wanted something to read that wasn't improving or serious. And it's so easy on a Kindle--one little click and there it was.

Is Spider Woman's Daughter the answer to every Hillerman fan's dream? Well, no. Is it a pretty good read? Well, I think so. I waver. I wonder if I just want it to be a pretty good read, but if she writes another novel, I will definitely read it. 

One thing that Ms. Hillerman did right was present most of the story from the point of view of Jim Chee's wife, Bernadette Manuelito. While we've met Bernie in a few of the Hillerman novels, we don't know her so well that we have exacting expectations for her character, and Ms. Hillerman's portrayal of Leaphorn and Chee is not as authentic as one might wish--I'm not sure it could be--so it's better that we see the better part of the action through Bernie's eyes. They are feminine eyes, and overall Spider Woman's Daughter has a more feminine atmosphere than its predecessors.

Unfortunately for the new novel, the atmosphere of the originals is one of the most important elements of mysteries. Gone is that dark, brooding sense of another world which is never entirely absent from Hillerman's work. Ms. Hillerman offers up plenty of Indian culture, but instead of drawing us into the Spider Woman's web, as her father did so well, she almost writes her lessons on a blackboard. She's more the teacher than the shaman.

Moreover, she hasn't mastered the legerdemain that's necessary for a writer of mysteries. It was obvious to me very early on who the villian was. I have to admit, though, that her father was sometimes a bit weak in that area, too, but I never minded much because his stories, his characters, and his ability to immerse one in the Native American ethos trump any shortcomings he might have had.

Despite the above weaknesses, and others which I haven't mentioned, I still enjoyed the book. Maybe I was just glad to meet up with Leaphorn and Chee again, even though they weren't quite themselves. Maybe, and I hope this is true, Anne Hillerman will be able to come closer to the mark in the future. We'll just have to wait and see. I obviously couldn't recommend this book unreservedly, but if you are a Hillerman fan, you might want to check it out. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might just be more of woman's book than a man's, and I'm curious to know if men find that to be true also, so I hope some of you will read it.


1 comment:

  1. It does sound interesting. I don't think I've read all of the originals yet, though.