First things first about Shape Shifter: for those of us who have suffered through the many loves and heart-breaks of Jim Chee, he and Bernadette have finally tied the knot. With luck they will live happily after and we will hear the pitter patter of little Chee feet in the next book.
I am a Tony Hillerman fan. Wait, let me put it another way – Tony Hillerman is my role model, my literary idol. If I were to ever meet him I would probably drool and act like some moronic idiot, tongue-tied and brain-dead. Get the picture. His books are treasures. Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn are cherished friends.
There has been considerable discussion about Shape Shifter, my favorite author’s most recent addition to his magnificent Navajo mystery series. Some fans have said they are disappointed with the book; some say it moves too slowly. I think the best way for a prospective reader to get a handle on this is to check out the reviews on Amazon.
For me, though, Shape Shifter is good. The history is top-notch. Let’s fact the fact that Hillerman wrote the book on cultural accuracy. And, this one is just that, historically and culturally accurate. As a writer, a resident of the state where Hillerman lives, and a historian of the Wild West, I appreciate the author’s attention to detail.
The story is fascinating. I love the literary drive around “the Big Rez” or the Navajo Reservation. Old friends are re-visited. A mystery is solved. Leaphorn finally breaks down and agrees to use a cell phone. But the big news is Jim Chee is finally happy.
Jim Chee has for some time been my version of my perfect man. He is charming. He is a klutz and a gentleman. He has also been through the proverbial wringer when it comes to women. It all started with that cute little number, Mary Langdon. After she ditched him when he refused to join the FBI, he fell for Janet Pete, who was just a little too up and coming DC fast track for Chee. She was also in love with her boss. Then came cute little officer Bernadette Manuelito who idolized Chee. Let’s face it, with a guy like Jim Chee, only someone like Bernadette is good enough for him!
The big problem with Hillerman, as you’ve already seen, is his characters are so real, so alive, you become involved with them. I’ve been a mystery reader since my Nancy Drew days, but never have I encountered an author who turned fictional characters into flesh and blood the way Tony Hillerman does. I cried when Leaphorn’s beloved Emma died and laughed at some of Chee’s more klutzy moments. You feel the beauty of the land, smell the pinion, and can visualize those remarkable New Mexico sunsets. Tony Hillerman understands Kit Carson was not responsible for the heartache of the Long Walk that was enforced on the Navajo during the Civil War.