Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Ghostway

By Tony Hillerman

Albert Gorman is looking for his brother Leroy. Albert and Leroy are both criminals from Los Angeles, although they are of Navajo heritage, they are city-raised. The crime boss they work for has been indited and Leroy is the main witness against him. So the FBI has taken the precaution of relocating him away from Los Angeles and Alfred is trying to find his brother. The only clue he has is a photograph he received in the mail and this had led him to Shiprock, New Mexico. But while trying to find Leroy, Albert has a confrontation with another man from Los Angeles and they both get shot. The man dies but Albert manages to drive away.
And this is where Jim Chee comes into the picture. As a Navajo and a policeman, he is naturally going to have a role to play in any investigation, even one involving the FBI. And his investigation leads him to the hogan of a relative of Albert's. Surveying the hogan, it is pretty clear to the knowing eyes of a man like Chee that the relative is a person who follows the traditional ways. It is also clear that someone has died in the hogan and, as is the Navajo way, the hogan has now been abandoned, contaminated by the ghost of whoever died there. Which just doesn't make sense to Jim because he knows that, as it becomes apparent that a person is dying, a wise Navajo would move the dying person outside, thus saving his home from contamination by the dead person's ghost. Yet Albert's relative didn't do this and thus lost a very snug, well-situated, nice hogan. And when Jim finds the body of the dead man, Albert, he notices that the body has not been properly prepared as a traditional Navajo would do. Again, this is contrary to the obviously traditional character of the owner of the hogan.
But this is an FBI case, and they prefer to handle it themselves. Jim Chee has a new case, a teenage runaway, the granddaughter of the man who owned the hogan. She is also tied into the murder case and Chee ends up trailing her from the hogan to Los Angeles and back to New Mexico, finally running her down at a ceremony to heal her from the contamination she experienced by entering the abandoned hogan. But it seems that Chee is not the only one interested in locating the girl. The gang from Los Angeles is also gunning for her. But what does she know that is so dangerous that she must killed? Before Jim Chee can figure this out not only will her life be at risk, but his own life will be on the line too.

This was a very good story. I like the Jim Chee character and it is interesting to follow him as he struggles with his conflicting desires of whether to move into the mainstream and make his Anglo girlfriend happy or to remain on the reservation and pursue his interest in learning the old traditional ceremonies and make himself happy. As always, Hillerman's depictions of the Navajo way are fascinating and captivating and a large part of the charm of his books is the background of Navajo culture.
Sometimes Hillerman's plots can be a little complicated, but this story is pretty straight forward. Frankly, I think that makes for a better read. I find convoluted plots confusing and hard to follow. And I think The Ghostway is one of the best of the Joe Leaphorn, Jim Chee novels. I really liked it.

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