The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is the first book in Tony Hillerman’s Navaho mysteries, and the first of three with Joe Leaphorn. I’ve already reviewed Listening Woman and Dance Hall of the Dead. What I appreciated was I didn’t find that the books had to be read in order. And I’m almost glad I read them out of order since the first book featuring Lt. Joe Leaphorn was definitely not the strongest of the three. I also “read” this on audio book.
Premise of the book revolves around a body found out in the canyon country on the reservation. First thought it was a drunk who had the misfortune to keel over dead, but upon closer inspection, was purposely placed in such a way to hide a murder. The question becomes why and immediately Navaho witch-craft comes to mind. Lt. Joe Leaphorn makes his way to an Enemy Blessing to ask questions. Meanwhile, Professor McKee and Professor Crawford are heading out into the Mesa. McKee is an Ethnologist and is looking for witch-craft stories to back his studies. Crawford has his own studies to pursue.
The story then departs from Lt. Leaphorn’s almost clinical assessment of the Navaho Enemy Blessing ceremony being performed to Prof. McKee running for his life with a young graduate student in tow. This part came across as cliché’d. The young female grad student unbelieving about the danger they were in, petulant, and weak. The antagonists trying to cover up some great secret deed and killing people who are out in the same area as them. McKee, behaving more like McGyver, somehow thwarts the antagonists long enough for Lt. Leaphorn to reason his way through the problem and meet him at the end.
I did have a few issues with this first book, but I also needed to remind myself that crime technology and medical accuracy in mystery books – while sometimes still wildly off base – has improved in the subsequent years since 1970. For example, the young woman is basically shot in the face. Our hero puts a bandage on it, puts her in a cave for safe keeping with some food. She is rescued because she makes a smoke fire. Uh huh.
Next issue was we never really see how our good Lt. Leaphorn solves the mystery. First he’s asking questions at a ceremony, then he’s riding around the high mesas, then he’s looking at tire tracts and then we don’t see Lt. Leaphorn until the end when he’s putting the bow on the package so to speak.
My final issue was the whole Navaho Witch-craft culture presented in the book. It seemed to just revolve around ‘witch-craft is scary business, don’t mess with it’, but that was about it. A bit disappointing.
I’ll keep reading the series though, until I either run out of audio books or I get tired of Hillerman.
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