Saturday, June 6, 2015

ROCK WITH WINGS by Anne Hillerman

Anne Hillerman’s Rock with Wings had a wildly improbable plot, but I liked the book anyway.

Navajo tribal policewoman Bernadette Manuelito and her husband Sergeant Jim Chee go two different ways.

She makes a traffic stop near her home station in Shiprock, New Mexico. Chee investigates a grave in another jurisdiction, Monument Valley, where four states (Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah) come together.

Bernie’s sister complicates matters by failing to care for their mother and, at the same time, getting herself arrested for DWI.

Chee investigates cast members for a movie being made in Monument Valley. The Valley is famous as the site of several John Ford movies (i.e. “Stagecoach”) starring John Wayne. Someone has left a fresh grave in the Valley.

And Bernie tries to figure out why she suspects the man she stopped was up to some kind nefarious crime.

As always, the settings and the Navajo Way are integral to the story.

Two things interested me especially about Rock with Wings. One was Lieutenant Leaphorn who is now disabled because someone gunned him down on the job. He is unable to speak. But he helps to solve both cases, and his involvement in the investigation begins his psychological healing.

For me, Leaphorn’s part in the book made the book worth reading.

And the second interesting thing--the emphasis on Navajo arts and weaving. At one point, Hillerman mirrors Bernie’s thoughts,

“Traditional Navajo weavers like her mother held several ideas in their mind simultaneously, moving one to the forefront and then another, focusing on details while simultaneously remembering the big picture and making the process seamless.”

What a great description to apply to other arts. One reason I’m not an effective novel writer (though I dabble) is that I can’t do what I think great writers do--hold the vision while you write the details.

So, for me, Rock with Wings was a mixed bag. I enjoyed the characters, setting, descriptions of the Navajo culture, and much else about the book. But I found the plot hard to believe.

Would I read the book again? I would. I recommended it to my wife. We both love the Hillerman characters. I thought she would enjoy meeting them again.


R.T. said...

Great posting! I am persuaded to give Anne Hillerman a try. I have had "cold feet" because I have worried that she would not favorably compare with my positive experiences with Tony Hillerman. So, thanks!

BTW, Crime in the Library, dormant for a while, has been reactivated, and I hope you will stop by to visit and comment every now and then.

Joe Barone said...

R.T., I thought Anne's first book SPIDER WOMAN'S DAUGHTER was the better book. If you do try her, you might want to start with that one. I tried to write what I wrote above to give a clear sense of what the book is like. I thought it was good, especially for Leaphorn and the way she honored the settings and the Navajo people, but not great.