Now, readers of the popular series are getting to know another Hillerman — Tony’s daughter, Anne. You can meet Anne Hillerman on Saturday, September 19. She’ll be talking about her latest book, Rock With Wings, in the social center auditorium at Good Samaritan — Las Cruces Village starting at 10 a.m. The social center is at 3011 Buena Vida Circle.
Before Tony Hillerman died, Anne and her husband, Don Strel, produced a book called Tony Hillerman’s Landscapes. Unfortunately, Tony died before the book was published. Anne did the text and Don the photos, and it highlights all the places on the Navajo Reservation Tony loved. As they did book events, Anne and Don were asked by fans if … perhaps … they’d found one more Leaphorn/Chee story in Tony’s computer. Alas, there were none, but it gave Anne an idea.
That idea blossomed into Spider Woman’s Daughter, her first novel. She had previously published non-fictions books. In Spider Woman’s Daughter, Anne develops the character of Bernie Manuelito, a Navajo Nation police officer and Jim Chee’s wife. Bernie was a character Tony had introduced. She remained a secondary figure, often having to be rescued by Chee.
Now, we all know, and love, the differences between men and women. We think differently. We feel differently. And these differences are making themselves known in Anne Hillerman’s writing.
The Leaphorn/Chee series has, first of all, morphed into the Leaphorn/Chee/Manuelito series. But there’s more. Characters are evolving. If you know the story, Joe Leaphorn was the legendary lieutenant on the police force. He’s retired. He’s also been seriously injured and is rehabilitating.
Chee, meanwhile, has become the principal crime solver, often asking himself, “What would the Lieutenant do?” Enter Bernie Manuelito. She did not work for Leaphorn as long as Chee. She is unencumbered by the lieutenant’s criticism or desire to emulate him and received his praise.
Hillerman has made Bernie her own woman. But, wait … there’s still more. Many mystery novels involve characters that seem to lack the kind of humanity we expect in stories by Harper Lee or Thomas Hardy. They’re often kind of flat.
In Hillerman’s Manuelito, we find a modern woman struggling to balance all the things with which a woman has to deal: an aging mother, an alcoholic sister, a husband, a home, and a job. We feel for her. We struggle with her. We cheer her on. And in Rock With Wings, the novel she’ll be discussing September 19, we find Bernie has faced danger, risen to the occasion, and solved the crime. She no longer has to be rescued.
Now, we can’t wait for Anne Hillerman’s next Navajo Nation police mystery, which she presently is writing, to find its way to the bookseller.