Stargazer: A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel (A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel, 6) by Anne Hillerman


Reviewed by Carol Smith

    Summary

The setting is the Navajo Nation in New Mexico; the month is October.

The story begins when Officer Tara Williams at Socorro County Sheriff’s Department receives the call about a young boy finding a dead man inside a car near highway MN 169. She embarks on the assignment and begins her work creating a crime scene.

Stargazer is the story of Officer Bernadette Manuelito working with her police colleagues in the Navajo Nation of New Mexico. It is more than a murder mystery or investigations of crime. It is about the people who work inside law enforcement in the Navajo Nation coping with the pitfalls of budget shortage, staff shortage and other obstacles. Some episodes include mention of missing and exploited indigenous women and children as a prime problem although not the focus of the story.

Tara Williams is contacted by Officer Bernadette Manuelito regarding a missing woman in Socorro. Her name is Maya Kelsey. Tara immediately makes the connection, the woman named Maya Kelsey is married to the man found dead in his car. Maya Kelsey, reported missing, shows up at the police department confessing to the murder of her husband, Steve Jones.

Together, the two police women begin a long journey of investigating the murder of the dead man, Steve Jones, Ph.D., a scientist who works at the VLA. The VLA is an actual real-life astronomy observatory located in central New Mexico. The author makes an interesting note of this observatory at the end of her book.

Throughout the book the haunting experiences of death and suicide experienced by folks in police work surface in various characters. They carry on in-spite of it. It makes the story authentic.
The author includes colorful descriptions in her scenes that create picturesque moments for the reader. They will feel present.

Officer Bernie’s dedicated, hard work causes her to solve the mystery and find the “real killer” of Steve Jones and also solves the mystery of why his wife, Maya Kelsey, confessed to a crime she did not commit.

This story is action-packed with a lot of movement and interaction between characters. It is a very multi-faceted, enjoyable read.

Editorial Review

Hillerman’s gift of creating alliteration in various sentences adds strength and enhances reader impact. In one scene taking place in the wilderness, the alliteration in “coyote chorus” causes the reader to relax in the midst of a violent episode.

The phrase “Tsunami of sadness” cleverly inserted in a very emotive scene is an alliteration used to soften the powerful word “Tsunami” placed before the emotional word “sadness”. It is intended to galvanize the reader.

Descriptions of police characters definitively depict that of tough, dedicated folks who are on task.

Anne Hillerman performed an outstanding job creating the character of Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito. Throughout the book she remains focused on her police work and connects with husband Sergeant Jim Chee. She has a natural inclination that causes her to see patterns, missing pieces, and the ability to notice what does “not add up”. Bernie’s actions show respect for her superiors. Her chary attitude saves her in a violent scene.

“No stone is left unturned” under her watch. The character of Officer Bernadette is believable because of Hillerman’s ability to build her personality into that of a bona fide police woman.

The author’s prose often includes words that describe the usual sights and sounds of the natural world we live in. E.g., “The morning light gave the grass a golden glow as it shimmered in the autumn breeze”. The euphony invites the reader to be present in scene.

The sound of Navajo words such Ghaaji” for October and other Navajo words are often used throughout the book. It marks the importance of American Indians clinging to their native language and customs while living in a modern-day society. There is mention of some primitive conditions such as many homes on the Navajo Nation still lacking electricity.

Hillerman is very adept at connecting all the dots in a mystery. She is an excellent mystery writer.

Quite a bit of Navajo history and present-day problems are mixed into the plots. Because of this, the story would appeal to Native American Indians and other races who are genuinely interested in the history and present day life of the American Indians.