Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Book Reviews Cultural Heritage Fiction Native American Literature Police Procedurals

Book Review: The Way of the Bear: A Novel – (A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel, 8) by Anne Hillerman.

Photograph by Janko Ferlic 

In “The Way of the Bear: A Novel,” Anne Hillerman delivers yet another gripping installment in her Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series, keeping readers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. Seamlessly continuing her father Tony Hillerman’s legacy, Anne Hillerman weaves a captivating tale of mystery, Navajo traditions, and the interconnected lives of her beloved characters.

The novel opens with a heart-stopping incident, as Officer Bernadette Manuelito responds to a peculiar call involving a hit-and-run accident near a remote roadside shrine on the Navajo reservation. This seemingly straightforward case turns out to be anything but ordinary, as Manuelito discovers an abandoned van containing a valuable artifact of cultural significance. The stakes quickly escalate when the artifact goes missing, and the possibility of a dangerous black market operation emerges.

As the narrative unfolds, Hillerman skillfully intertwines multiple storylines, each highlighting a different member of the ensemble cast. The central figure remains the indomitable Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, who is drawn out of retirement when he is indirectly involved in the case. Leaphorn, with his wealth of experience and deep understanding of Navajo culture, serves as the guiding force throughout the investigation, offering crucial insights and connecting the dots between seemingly disparate events.

Chee, Manuelito’s husband and a fellow officer, also plays a significant role. Hillerman delves into Chee’s personal struggles as he grapples with a new promotion, balancing his duty to the force with his strong spiritual connection to the land. Chee’s internal conflicts mirror the external conflicts faced by the Navajo people, highlighting the ever-present tension between modernity and tradition.

What sets Hillerman’s writing apart is her ability to immerse readers in the rich tapestry of Navajo culture. She effortlessly incorporates traditional ceremonies, beliefs, and landscapes into the narrative, making the reservation itself a character. The Way of the Bear serves as a love letter to the Navajo way of life, honoring its traditions and revealing the challenges faced by Native American communities in the modern world.

Photograph by NRCPR

Hillerman’s characters are multifaceted and relatable, adding depth to the story. Manuelito’s determination and unwavering sense of justice make her a compelling protagonist, while her interactions with her husband and Leaphorn provide a nuanced exploration of personal relationships. The supporting cast, including fellow officers, tribal elders, and even the villains, are equally well-drawn and add layers of complexity to the plot.

The pacing of the novel is spot-on, with Hillerman masterfully building suspense with each chapter. The mystery at the core of the story unfolds gradually, keeping readers guessing until the very end. The author’s attention to detail is commendable, as she weaves together seemingly inconsequential clues, leading to a surprising and satisfying resolution.

“The Way of the Bear” also addresses social issues prevalent in Native American communities, such as the preservation of cultural heritage, the exploitation of sacred artifacts, and the struggle for identity and self-determination. Hillerman expertly tackles these topics with sensitivity and respect, shedding light on the challenges faced by indigenous peoples while maintaining a gripping narrative.

Anne Hillerman’s writing style is evocative and engaging. Her prose transports readers to the sweeping vistas of the Southwest, immersing them in the sights, sounds, and smells of the desert. The dialogue is natural and authentic, capturing the distinct voices of the characters and their unique perspectives.

“The Way of the Bear: A Novel” stands on its own as a thrilling mystery but also pays homage to Tony Hillerman’s iconic series. Anne Hillerman successfully carries forward her father’s legacy while infusing the narrative with her own voice. Readers who have been following the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series will be delighted by this latest installment, and newcomers will find themselves captivated by the vivid storytelling and rich cultural tapestry.

In conclusion, “The Way of the Bear: A Novel” is a masterfully crafted mystery that combines intricate plotlines, vivid characters, and a deep appreciation for Navajo culture. Anne Hillerman’s writing shines as she continues to evolve and expand upon her father’s legacy, creating a worthy addition to the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series. Fans of the series and lovers of suspenseful crime novels alike will find much to savor in this captivating tale.


Andreas Michaelides

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