George V. Reilly

Review: The Shape Shifter

The Shape Shifter
Title: The Shape Shifter
Author: Tony Hillerman
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Publisher: Harper Collins
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 276
Keywords: mystery
Reading period: 16-19 April, 2007

This is the latest in Tony Hillerman‘s long-running series of police pro­ce­du­rals featuring Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee of the Navajo tribal police.

Leaphorn has retired recently and misses the job. An old, old case of his comes to life when he is shown a recent picture of a priceless Navajo rug long thought to be destroyed in a fire that killed a man on the FBI’s most-wanted list. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion leads him into finding what really happened to the rug and the long-dead killer.

Hillerman, as ever, is par­tic­u­lar­ly good at depicting modern-day Indians, conflicted by the demands of modern life and trying to keep tribal ways alive. Hillerman weaves a slow-paced but satisfying tale. There’s no great mystery here: the current identity of the killer is revealed halfway through the book. Hillerman con­cen­trates on character and atmosphere, and painlessly includes a good deal of Navajo and Laotian (!) beliefs and creation stories.

Far too many modern mysteries and thrillers rely on improbably evil and capable sociopaths. There are certainly a lot of sociopaths, but few of them are as capable as Hollywood would have it. I’ve grown tired of this plot device, which is to say that Hillerman fell prey to it here. Too bad.

I would like to have seen more of the newly married Jim Chee in this book. He and Bernadette barely appear at all.

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