1990; 368 pages. New Author? : No. Book #10 (out of 18) in the “Leaphorn and Chee” series. Genre : Murder-Mystery; Native American Fiction; Police Procedural. Laurels : Winner of the 1991 Nero Award. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
It’s something that will haunt Officer Jim Chee for the rest of his life.
Fellow Tribal Officer Delbert Nez radioed him to tell him he was about to catch the pesky graffiti artist who had recently started dabbing the nearby sacred mountains with white paint. The radio transmissions were patchy – which was nothing unusual in among all the mountains in the area. But Nez sounded relaxed, and even chuckling as he told Chee he’d be a couple minutes late for their nightly rendezvous at the local coffee shop.
But when “a couple minutes” started stretching out to a much longer time, Chee realized he should’ve immediately have supplied back-up for Nez, despite the vandalism seeming to be a minor misdemeanor. And when he belatedly tore down the dark road, all his fears became nightmares when he came across Nez’s police car, in flames, with Nez still in the driver’s seat, dead from a gunshot.
Why would some petty paint-sprayer resort to killing to avoid arrest?
What’s To Like...
Coyote Waits is my third “Leaphorn and Chee” novel, the first since 2014. It has the usual Tony Hillerman literary structure: a mystifying murder on the Navajo reservation, and a methodical investigation by the two Native American policemen, in this case, working separately for most of the book. Indeed, in this story, they don’t think too highly of one another, their limit apparently being grudging respect. Chee is still heavily into “the Navajo way” (he wants to become a shaman), Leaphorn has long since dismissed the tribal mysticism as a bunch of hooey.
The murder-mystery is well-crafted. The reader rides along as both investigators gradually find clues as to who did it, and why. There are an adequate number of twists and red herrings, yet everything unfolds in a sensible order.
As usual, the story takes place in the Four Corners area of the US, and I was happy to see one of my alma maters – Arizona State – get a brief mention. Also as usual, the reader learns Navajo words (“Ya’eh t’eeh!”), Navajo culture, and the Navajo mindset, as well as some entertaining interplay between mystical forces and cold, hard evidence. This is true for all of the books in the series, and that’s a real treat.
It was also fun to once again cross paths with the titular Coyote god. The trickster was also featured in books by Christopher Moore (reviewed here) and Kage Baker (reviewed here). Things are never what they seem when he’s around. The storyline moves at a nice, jaunty pace, and this was a quick read for me, which was just what I wanted.
“I haven’t brought up the subject of snakes,” Janet said. She was brushing the dirt from her hands on her pant legs. “If I do, I hope you’ll try to say something positive.”
Okay,” Chee said. He thought for a minute, catching his breath. “If you like snakes, this is a fine example of the places you come to find them.” (loc. 916)
Pinto’s eyes moved across the courtroom, hesitating a moment when they came to the Navajo panelist, hesitating another moment when they met the eyes of Jim Chee.
Chee looked away, down at his itching hand.
No one knew Hosteen Ashie Pinto. The whites didn’t know him, nor the Hispanics, nor the Apache, nor the Pueblos, nor the Asian. Nor Janet Pete, nor me. He is a shaman. He is a stranger to us all. (loc. 2309)
Coyote Waits sells for $8.99 at Amazon, which, coincidentally, is the same price you’d pay for the paperback version there. The rest of the e-books in the series are all in the $4.99-$9.99 range, with the majority of them going for $8.99.
“Things seem random only because we see them from the wrong perspective.” (loc. 2239)
There are a couple quibbles. At one point, a(nother) shooting victim takes time, while dying, to write not one, but two quick messages in his own blood on the wall. Shades of Sherlock Holmes! But I find it hard to believe that’s what I’d be doing with my final breaths.
Equally vexing was what I call the “Perry Mason” ending. Chee has finally figured out the who-and-why, but frankly, he doesn’t have a shred of proof. How convenient, then, when the perpetrator fully confesses to the crime without any coercion whatsoever.
Lastly, and leastly, there are a slew of extra “goodies” at the end of the book, taking up the final 13% of the Kindle, none of which are worth spending any time on. Most are just plugs for the other books in the series.
8 Stars. The quibbles notwithstanding, this was still a very good book. Add ½ star if you enjoy learning more about the Navajo way of life.