With the exception of my own, I try not to talk to characters in books. It is hard not to feel a slight sense of insanity creeping in as one lectures a fictional protagonist, but sometimes, just occasionally, it is the right thing to do. When, for example, Officer Bernie Manuelito – the heroine of this novel states “I should have figured it out sooner…all the clues were there” I was forced to exclaim, “Damn straight you foolish woman! I knew seven chapters ago!”
Spider Woman’s Daughter (nothing to do with the lads at Marvel) is a police drama set in Arizona and New Mexico. It revolves around the shooting of an esteemed Navajo police officer and is intricately entwined in Navajo culture, beliefs and traditions. It’s also a bit of a travelogue of beautiful places to see. On the whole it’s a very enjoyable read, but the plotting gave me some serious issues.
When it comes to thrillers and the like, I am a fan of the slow reveal. I like a trail of half hidden bread crumbs. In this, however, if you’ve been paying attention, the breadcrumbs are served up as a freshly baked loaf about halfway through the book. You know who, and most of the why, and a reasonable chunk of how. I was hoping for a second twist but it never came. All in all, the reveal unfolds pretty much as expected.
That said, this is still a very enjoyable book. It is well written and I really enjoyed the setting and context – it was unfamiliar territory and I felt like I was being shown an entirely new world. I know nothing about Navajo culture, however, like a very balanced and loving portrayal that makes you want to go and read more on the subject. I confess, however, to having a niggling sense of political correctness. Is the author really qualified to write so intimately about a Navajo community? Is she Navajo? What are her credentials? It’s an odd feeling. I would not have felt the same way if she had been writing about France or Guatemala. Still I wanted some sort of explanation in the author’s note at the end to explain it all away.
The answer in part is probably simply the fact that author, Anne Hillerman, in her first work of fiction has picked up a series that was first started by her father, Tony Hillerman, in 1970, and comprised eighteen books. While there don't seem to be any hereditary ties to the Navajo, Hillerman senior lived in New Mexico for over forty years.
I’m curious now to go back and read some of the previous novels, but I’m also looking forward to reading what Anne Hillerman write’s next. I’m sure she must have felt incredible pressure in the writing of this book, to not only produce a good novel but to preserve her father’s legacy. I hope that now that she has the first one under her belt, subsequent novels will further demonstrate her obvious talent.