Book Review: The Wailing Wind – Tony Hillerman


( This book, or part of it, is set on Halloween )

Deputy Bernadette Manuelito of the Navajo Tribal Police gets called out on a last-minute call to check out an abandoned car.  She arrives at the scene to find what looks like a man sleeping off a night of drinking.  The dead man, however, doesn’t rouse.   Everything points to natural causes, there is no obvious cause of death, and she didn’t look hard at the scene until the gun shot was found by the EMT.  The murder of this man, Doherty, and an old case Joe Leaphorn worked years ago seem to be related.  It is tied to the legend of The Wailing Woman, the lost treasure of The Golden Calf, and the Halloween night years ago that Wiley Denton shot the con man McKay.

Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Mysteries with Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn are infamous.  The legendary Joe Leaphorn has been solving cases in the Four Corners for years.  Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant has retired but it hasn’t stopped his curiosity.  He reaches out to Sgt. Jim Chee when he hears about the murder of Doherty.  He wants to know if it has any relation to his previous case where Wiley Denton shot a con man trying to sell him the location ‘The Golden Calf.’  The motivations aren’t obvious, but maps are found at Doherty’s murder site along with an old tin of placer gold.  Everything from the old case gets turned over, including Denton’s missing wife, who was supposed to go to a lunch with her friends the day of the murder.  She never showed up and never came home. People thought she ran off.  She was too young and too pretty for Denton.  She was believed to be in league with McKay because she introduced him to her husband.  No one, however, who knew her believed it to be true and neither did her husband.   Denton, in fact, hires Leaphorn during this book to look into her missing persons case.   He never stopped looking for her.  Leaphorn can’t shake the feeling this has something to do with the police report of three kids on that Halloween night.  They said they heard a woman crying amongst the old army bunkers at Fort Wingate.  It was Halloween, however, and the kids were scared.  By the end of the night two of the kids were convinced they heard “La Llorana”/the wailing woman, another one was sure it was a Skinwalker, and the last thought it was vampire.  It got dismissed as nothing.  Leaphorn isn’t so sure.

I read all of Hillerman’s books several years ago.  In fact, I remember listening to some of them when I was a kid  back when audio books were books-on-tape.  My family was traveling cross-country and we would stop at the Cracker Barrel’s, trading one Hillerman book-on-tape out for another.  Leaphorn and Chee made it so we could drive fourteen hour days and not commit murder.  Enough nostalgia.  The point is I read them awhile ago and forgot how good they are.  I reread this mainly because it’s Autumn and Halloween is coming.  I wanted to indulge in the murder set on October 31.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I got to rediscover a favorite author and series.  Hillerman captures the cultural intricacies and beauty of the American Southwest.  His writing is beautiful in a sparse way that reflects the scenery of the area.

Hillerman has a wonderful grasp not only of the Navajo culture in the Four Corners area but also the Zuni, Hopi, Hispanic and belagaana/caucasian cultures living there.  He grew up in the southwest.   It is how, along with research, he obtained the information contained in his stories. He has  received the Navajo Tribes Special Friend Award and Center for the American Indian Ambassador Award for bringing attention to Native American culture and concerns.  I recommend you read Hillerman’s books if you enjoy mysteries or if you have any interest in the American West.  They are contemporary Westerns.  If you are looking for where to start, the first of the Navajo Mysteries is ‘The Blessing Way.’


About Steph

As C. S. Lewis said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” I am an indiscriminate reader. I can find a way to enjoy almost all books. I find they are like people – you can find something endearing in almost every one of them. I love to write reviews. I hope you enjoy them and find them useful. View all posts by Steph

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