This seems almost unbelievable, but it’s been 51 years since Tony Hillerman published his first Joe Leaphorn novel, The Blessing Way. The books are now such revered classics I was hesitant when I picked up Anne Hillerman’s first book, thinking there was no way she could continue the work of her father. But Ms. Hillerman has made the series her own. The central character is neither Joe Leaphorn or Jim Chee, but Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito, giving the series an entirely new flavor.
This book is the winner of the Tony Hillerman prize and thus has some serious shoes to fill, and it fills them fairly well. Set on the Pueblo, Potenza has created a fictional but believable tribe, the Fire-Sky tribe. She then gives each of her four major characters varying degrees of connection to the tribe. At the center of the story is Sgt. Nicky Matthews, a Pueblo police officer, not native herself.
Her best friend, Savannah Analia, the public safety director’s assistant, is full blood. Then there’s Ryan, who makes jewelery and who grew up with Savannah, but isn’t native. He does however have extensive knowledge and respect for native traditions. And then there’s conservation agent, outsider Frank, who is the uneven piece of this four person puzzle.