When I discovered Tony Hillerman, I thought I’d gone to reader heaven. He’s exactly what I love about an atmospheric book–he carries me away to an alternate world, lets me know that I’m not the only one who struggles with my foibles, and teaches me about culture in a non-narrative way. I quickly finished his series and then he passed on so I could read no more. I do read his daughter’s books, but there’s something missing (don’t get me wrong; I read every book she publishes).
Then I couldn’t find more–until I discovered R. Allen Chappell’s Navajo Nation Mysteries. It’s about three Navajo friends–Charlie Yazzie, a Navajo Legal Services investigator; Thomas Begay, a reformed drunk; and Harley Ponyboy, their friend who is trying to reform his life–and the unexpected adventures they become involved in mostly because a relative (of which, in Navajo culture, there are many) gets into trouble or an injustice occurs that the FBI (the US legal oversight of reservations) isn’t taking seriously enough, especially according to Navajo beliefs. Each book focuses on one such event with a liberal dose of how every action and word is a product of the Navajo community.
If you’re wondering how authentic the culture and backstory is, see for yourself:
Magpie sat atop a scrub oak and in the haughty manner of its kind cocked a sparkling eye at the old singer and gurgled deep in its throat. He well knew that magpies can speak should they take a notion, and often see well beyond the world of man.
[Lucy Tallwoman] had only that morning fashioned the little yarn tail, the ch’ihónít’t, (many thought it only a loose thread) at the bottom corner of the blanket. It was that thread that allowed the weaver’s spirit to escape the finished piece and not be trapped.
Lucy knew her white patrons pictured her life on the reservation as peacefully languid, simple, nearly idyllic, but for those who follow the old Diné ways life can be more complicated––a spider’s web of myth and superstition. Often she found herself walking a thin line between the two worlds and was not always sure she had taken the right path.
This is how it is, Charlie thought to himself. Harley makes a good case for what happened and then throws it all away by thinking someone is a witch and has supernatural powers. This is the sort of thing holding my people back.
…might not even be whites. To his way of thinking, these tracks stayed too much to the cover to be whites. The tracks were at least twenty-four hours old. The slight wind erosion on both sides of the prints made this clear. Afternoon winds sweeping up the ridge the afternoon before and then the downward flow of the night winds showed a near equal blurring of both edges of the track. Reading sign in this dry country was more
There is so much background on Navajo life and customs, you feel you are part of it, despite that most of us could never be included in that world. Sadly, it was only five books long and now, again, I’m adrift.
More atmospheric novels:
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.