Tony Hillerman,
(Harper & Row, 1988)

Skinwalkers is a murder-mystery novel that takes you deep inside the Navajo culture and folklore. It will keep you on the edge of your seat and amaze you with unexpected twists. The level of suspense remains high throughout the novel. The writing is lively and extremely descriptive, giving you the feel of watching a movie instead of reading a book.

The story begins with Jim Chee, a Navajo tribal policeman stationed at Shiprock, N.M., being awakened by his cat. While he is in the kitchen getting a drink, someone fires four shotgun blasts through his bedroom window and into his bed. He has no idea who is trying to kill him or why.

As Chee mulls over the incident, he tries to go about his police work. There have been three murders in the area that seem to be unrelated and are spaced in a rough triangle, some 120 miles apart. Lt. Joe Leaphorn, stationed at Window Rock, N.M., joins forces with Chee in the investigation. But the more they dig into the murders, the further they go into the dark forces of the Navajo people, encountering witchcraft at every turn.

Meanwhile, as they pursue the killer or killers, a man works feverishly to kill Chee. The man's son is dying from anencephaly, a condition where the brain has not formed. The man believes Chee is a skinwalker, a witch, and that he has caused the condition in the boy. If Chee is killed, the brain will form in the child and he will be OK. But if Chee remains alive, his witchcraft will surely kill the child. Chee, unaware of this motive, is an easy target while he goes about his duties.

I could not put this book down and read it completely in one sitting. This has to be the most intense book on the market pertaining to the Navajo folklore and beliefs. It is mesmerizing! The details of the area and people are precise. Even though the people are fictitious, the Shiprock and Window Rock areas are depicted realistically and everything in this book is consistent with the people of this region. It is easy to believe that this story could be real and happening today. I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in Native American folklore or culture.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 2 August 2003

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