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Skeleton Man

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Two planes collide, killing over one hundred people and scattering the bodies over the Grand Canyon. The long forgotten tragedy provides the setting for a fast-paced mystery. Tony Hillerman “unretires” his Navajo policeman, Joe Leaphorn, to investigate what appears to be a simple robbery of a souvenir shop. A brain-damaged Hopi is blamed when he tries to pawn a diamond he claims he got from a mysterious old man in the Grand Canyon. A valuable gem missing from the store, believed to be the same one pawned by the suspected thief, is traced to a large cache of diamonds, reported lost in the disastrous plane crash years before.

To establish the suspect’s guilt or innocence, police begin a search for the diamonds. The trail to the gems, reportedly shackled to one of the passengers lost in the plane crash, is well trod. The illegitimate daughter of the diamond courier seeks his DNA to establish her claim to his inheritance, controlled now by a foundation, and to seek revenge on those who took the money. An unsavory investigator, hired by the unscrupulous foundation lawyer to find the diamonds and to destroy evidence linking the daughter to the courier, is willing to do anything--even kill--to accomplish his mission. The veritable pied piper chain of treasure seekers is rounded out by a Navajo police officer and his fiancee, who comes along for the scenery but is pulled into the quest for answers, the diamonds, and a mysterious religious figure, the skeleton man.

Spiced by local color, insight into the customs, flora, and fauna of the surroundings of the Grand Canyon, the story is satisfying. Vintage Hillerman, Skeleton Man will keep the reader turning pages until the end. The subtext of Native American customs and an improbable love story enhance the interest and renders the book more than just a formula mystery.