Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Ghostway - Tony Hillerman

   1984; 301 pages. New Author? : No.  Book #6 (out of 18) of the “Leaphorn and Chee” series.  Genre : Murder-Mystery.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    There’s been a shootout at the OK Corral.  No, it actually took place at the Shiprock Economy Wash-O-Mat laundry on the Navajo Four Corners reservation.  One gunman was killed; the other was wounded before driving away.  Curiously, neither was a local; they were both small-time criminals from Los Angeles. 

    Why would two Angelinos drive all the way to Shiprock to shoot at each other?  And why was one of them, a Navajo by blood, asking around about his brother?  Tribal policeman Jim Chee has a number of questions, but no answers.  And for some reason, the FBI is doing their best to keep him in the dark.

What’s To Like...
     Tony Hillerman novels are almost always Murder-Mysteries steeped in Navajo culture, and The Ghostway is no exception.  The Crime portion of the storyline is well-done.  The clues are there, you and Jim Chee just have to fathom them out.  Hillerman does a nice job of gradually revealing more and more of what’s really going on.  The ending is logical, without being too simple or obvious.  And naturally, it can’t be solved without delving into the Navajo way of life.

    The Navajo culture immersion part of the story is done with an equally deft stroke.  Its comparison to the “White Way” is presented objectively.  On one hand, staying on the reservation means a meager existence filled with superstition.  On the other, a move to a place like LA means a loss of one’s heritage, and a bewildering culture with its own drawbacks.  At one point, Chee stands at the fence of an old folks home, questioning its residents, and reflecting that whites deal with their aged kinfolk by institutionalizing them, while Navajos revere and honor their elders.  It's a powerful scene.

    The series has an overlying theme of Jim Chee struggling to bring his Indian heritage into harmony with Anglo civilization, his job, and his white girlfriend.  But The Ghostway, like all the books in the series, is a standalone novel.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Chindi (n.)  :  The ghost left behind after a person dies, being everything that was bad about that person; the residue that a person has been unable the bring into universal harmony (Navajo religious belief).

    “Begay is Tazhii Dinee.  In fact, I’m told his aunt is the ahnii of that clan.  He’s lived up there above Two Gray Hills longer than anybody can remember.  Has a grazing permit.  Runs sheep.  Keeps to himself.  Some talk that he’s a witch.”
    Largo recited it all in a flat, uninflected voice, putting no more emphasis on the last sentence than the first.
    “There’s some talk that just about everybody is a witch,” Chee said.  “I’ve heard you were.  And me.”  (pg. 35)

    Maybe he hadn’t stepped through the corpse hole into a chindi Hogan.  Maybe he wasn’t contaminated with ghost sickness.  But that didn’t matter either.  The ghost sickness came when he made the step – out of hozro and into the darkness.  Out of being a Navajo, into being a white man.  For Chee, that was where the sickness lay.  (pg. 244)

“Let the whites bury the whites, or however that quotation went.  (pg.  19)
    I read my first Tony Hillerman novel back in 2008, shortly after he passed away.  It is reviewed here.  I don’t know why it's taken me so long to pick up another one of his books.  I very much enjoyed The Ghostway

    My only quibble is with Jim Chee repeatedly moping about his GF’s trying to get him to leave the reservation and take a job with the Feds.  Do or do not, Jim Chee.  Make a decision, lose your funk, and move on.

    8½ Stars.  Add one star if you have some or all Native American blood flowing through your veins.

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