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Skeleton Man

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Skeleton Man, by Tony Hillerman, starts out as an anecdote, then becomes a recollection, after which it tells the story of past history mixing with present day cultures.

Hillerman wisely uses a modern mystery in order to make his plot reasonable. More than a half century ago, two planes crashed after a passenger on a United flight mentioned to a flight attendant that he would not mind seeing the Grand Canyon more up close and personal. She told the pilot, made an ill fated turn out of the clouds and into a TWA plane. Every person on board the two aircrafts perished. As point of reference, a special note is placed up front in the acknowledgements that while that event was indeed real, all else is fiction.

Joe Leaphorn is brought into the case when the head of the police department asks the retired officer to re-examine his former cases. Apparently, an Indian was caught trying to conduct a pawnshop transaction for twenty dollars. So what, you might ask. Well, the item in question was a diamond worth around twenty thousand dollars. Oops. Worse yet, the gem had turned up in a robbery report. After the fact, but there nonetheless.

As usual, Jim Chee gets drawn in too. It turns out the arrested man is a cousin of a friend of Chee’s. Cowboy Dashee is convinced his cousin is innocent. What neither Leaphorn nor Chee realizes is a more sinister story lies behind the tales.

One of the people who died in the plane crash is a man presumed to be father to an illegitimate daughter, now caught up in a battle for a hotly debated estate. If Joanna Craig can prove beyond doubt John Clarke was her father, she inherits everything. Which is what the senior partner of a law firm would dearly love to prevent. So, a bounty hunter is hired to bury the evidence, namely, an arm attached to handcuffs. Throw in a cache of diamonds, Chee’s upcoming wedding, cultural laws, and Hillerman fans find a book chock full of goodies.

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