Very near the end of this novel, Bernadette Manuelito says something to the effect of “I should have seen this a lot earlier.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who read that and thought “Yeah. No shit, Sherlock.”
The basic plot is this: in the first chapter Bernie watches as Leaphorn is shot in the parking lot of a coffee shop. She isn’t able to identify the shooter because the shooter was wearing a hoodie. But she sees that the shooter is about 5’2" tall and is wearing a silver bracelet. Just to be clear, Hilllerman shoots Leaphorn in the head in the first chapter, so you can forget about any ideas you might have of this being a Leaphorn/Chee novel. That’s a major negative for me, because I always found Leaphorn to be the more interesting character.
Bernie is given administrative leave, and Chee is put in charge of the case (though nothing in the rest of the novel would suggest that he was actually “in charge” of anything except doing various scut work assigned by his boss). But, naturally, Bernie stays involved in the case, so we can enjoy the always pleasant banter between her and her husband Chee.
Since Bernie had definitively identified the shooter as being 5’2" the police (including Bernie and Chee) naturally named as their suspect someone who is 5’8“. Naturally! And since Louisa, Leaphorn’s longtime companion, left town on the morning of the shooting, she also became a suspect. Of course!
Meanwhile, Bernie meets the actual shooter, who gives her all sorts of clues that anyone who had been paying attention would have been able to connect the dots. But not Bernie. The reader, yes. Bernie, and later Chee, seem completely oblivous.
If all that weren’t enough to ruin the novel, we have the following:
Truly irrelevant and boring detail. For example, the succession of buildings and businesses when entering some town between Shiprock and Santa Fe; a description of various people in a hospital waiting room; tedious coffee shop discussion.
A completely implausible chance encounter at a national monument that leads to the discovery of the murder of someone who was peripherally involved in the Leaphorn shooting. Deus ex machina!
A pointless side-plot about Bernie’s alcoholic sister and aged mother, replete with an extra character “Stoop Boy” who is introduced into the story, given a possibly interesting backstory, and then dropped altogether.
Overall, though I’m happy enough that Hillerman is continuing her father’s series, this was pretty disappointing. Maybe the next one (if there is a next one) will be better. We can hope.