Onyx reviews: The Wailing Wind
by Tony Hillerman
After taking a break in the middle of writing his latest novel to pen his
memoir, Seldom Disappointed, Tony Hillerman is back with his fifteenth murder
mystery set in the Four Corners region of the Southwest. Hillerman uses his
novels to explore Navajo tradition and mythology in a modern world where
cultures overlap and often collide.
The Navajo embody a serene kind of patience where people never interrupt, hear
everything that is said and wait as long as it takes for the whole story to be
told. They make excellent police officers because they aren't afraid of
prolonged silences, silences nervous suspects seem anxious to fill with
Sometimes, though, their religious beliefs betray them. A body is found hunched
over in a pickup truck on the Utah side of the reservation. At first, Officer
Bernadette Manuelito thinks the person is another drunk sleeping it off and
fails to preserve the crime scene. When she realizes the man is dead—from a
rifle shot to his back—her Navajo fear of chindi (the evil spirits left behind
in dead bodies) clouds her judgment. Concerned about scheduling a cleansing
ritual, she accidentally takes an important piece of evidence with her.
Manuelito is struggling to find her place in the police department, especially
since doesn't quite understand her relationship with her boss, Jim Chee. He
seems to be friend, potential boyfriend and arrogant boss all at the same time.
Chee is heavily immersed in Navajo tradition and has explored the possibility of
becoming a singer, a leader of religious ceremonies.
Chee enlists his former boss, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, now retired, to
discretely help fix Manuelito's mistake. She thinks she's being reprimanded and
works to re-establish her credibility by discovering the real murder scene using
information she gathered near the truck.
Leaphorn can't resist a good mystery. Papers found in the dead man's truck call
to mind an old case. Two years earlier, Wiley Denton killed a man who tried to
sell him bogus information about a missing gold mine and then tried to rob him.
It's billed as self-defense, and Denton spends only a little time behind bars.
The Navajo want little to do with gold, viewing it as a substance that drives
white men crazy.
On the same Halloween day as the Denton shooting, four children taking an
unauthorized short cut through an abandoned ordnance depot told police they
heard a woman's screams. These cries remind some of the myth of the Wailing
Woman who wanders the desert, seeking a lost child. The wailing wind is written
off as a prank or hoax.
What bothers Leaphorn is the fact that Denton's young wife has been missing
since the day of the shooting. Locals assume she was part of the deal to swindle
her well-off husband. Others feel Denton's ongoing search for his wife is merely
a cover for something more sinister.
The Wailing Wind isn't a complex mystery. There aren't many suspects and astute
readers may well put the pieces together long before Chee, Leaphorn and
Manuelito do. It is the voyage that is the pleasure and not the destination.
Watching Chee deal patiently with a shaman, who must be asked a question four
times to guarantee the truth, while an FBI agent waits impatiently for the
answer says much about the difference between cultures.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2007. All rights reserved.