by Tony Hillerman
Category: Fiction / Mystery
354 pages; ISBN: 0061092606
Rating: 9/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Judith Woolcock Colombo
Copyright 1993 By Tony Hillerman
Judith Woolcock Colombo
"Sacred Clowns" set within the context of Navajo culture and using the overwhelming physical presence of the Southwest as backdrop, mixes ethnicity, human greed, and romance into an intriguing mystery.
The novel reunites Navajo Detective Jim Chee and Lt. Joe Leaphorn. Chee now part of Leaphorn’s two-man Special Investigations Office has been assigned to follow Delmar Kanitewa, a runaway student and grandson of a powerful member of the tribal council.
Chee follows the boy to the Tano Pueblo for a ceremony of koshares, sacred clowns, only to see the ceremony interrupted by a murder. The boy, who is in full site of Chee during the murder at the Pueblo, vanishes. Later it is discovered that he may also know something about another murder, that of shop- teacher Eric Dorsey.
With the boy’s disappearance, we are left with the mystery of how exactly the two murders are connected. However, these murders are just the beginning of an intricate plot that involves an unsolved hit and run case, political and religious scandal, and romance for both Chee and Leaphorn.
This is a well-woven story that brings us into the hearts and minds of Hillerman’s two very different heroes. The contrast between the lives and characters of the men from their two different methods of problem solving to romancing the women of their choice is as much a part of the story as the mystery itself.
I enjoyed this story very much and was particularly intrigued by the aspects of Navajo culture and tribal law that ran throughout the story. There were some aspects of the methods used, especially by Chee that as both a mystery writer and wife of a retired Sergeant of Detectives, I found questionable. However, I realized that Hillerman is writing as much about a culture as he is about solving a mystery. Police officers like all of us are defined by their culture and act within its bounds.
This is a very enjoyable mystery and I highly recommend it.
Judith Woolcock Colombo: Author of The Fablesinger & Night Crimes
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