76 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2004
Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are two of my favorite fictional characters. I've followed them since Chee was a pup learning the lay of the land from Leaphorn.
This slim new story based on a long ago air disaster over the Grand Canyon contains all the elements Hillerman's readers have come to expect: mayhem, mysteries, and, ultimately, a resolution and healing. Reading the story about a strange old hermit that lived at the base of the canyon; diamonds long lost; a life cut short and a life lived in limbo left me wanting to know more and see more of these characters.
Hillerman did not disappoint. I just wish the book had been longer. *Sigh*
79 of 90 people found the following review helpful
The first hundred pages of SKELETON MAN are as good as anything Hillerman has written. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are involved in a diamond caper that takes Chee to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There's a Hopi myth that relates to the diamonds and Hillerman spends extra time exploring the depths of the Reservation. Leaphorn is still trying to convince his archaeologist girlfriend to marry him, and Chee is trying to adjust to his engagement to Bernie Mauelito.
The problems begin when Hillerman begins repeating himself. Three different sets of characters converge on the Grand Canyon, and they all need to know that the missing diamonds came from a diamond merchant aboard a plane that crashed into another airliner above the Canyon. The diamonds have been showing up repeatedly in the ensuing years, and Leaphorn traces one of them to an old friend who runs a decrepit general store out in the boonies. Hearing this story gets old after you've heard it three or four times.
Leaphorn disappears from the story after he finds the diamond that his friend says had been given to him by a cowboy who traded his knife for it with an old Indian in the Grand Canyon. A kachina figure is stitched on the side of the pouch it was kept in. Either Hillerman forgot about this clue or an editor deleted it because we never hear about it again. Leaphorn always adds credibility to Hillerman's sometimes farfetched plots because he's so deliberate and painstaking during his investigations. We also want to see if Leaphorn is making any progress with the archaeologist; she would know what the kachina figure meant.
One of the characters who converges on the Grand Canyon is the illegitimate daughter of the diamond merchant. She needs to reclaim her father's bones to prove that she is the rightful heir to her grandfather's fortune. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't the daughter be able to get the same results from her grandfather?
The ending is also incredibly unrealistic and one of the characters gets away with attempted murder. I love the Leaphorn/Chee novels and I will buy the next one in a heartbeat, but Harper Collins needs to give Hillerman the time to make sure he's got all of his ducks in a row before they publish.
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2005
My daughter and I listened to this book on CD on a long drive from Illinois Florida and the best I can say about it is that it gave us something to do while trying to stay awake.
I'm a huge Hillerman fan; I've lived and taught on the rez, and my Navajo friends have said nice things about Hillerman as an author and a genuine good guy. I know this country and I love having special places "people" his novels. So this disappointment is especially keen.
I won't repeat others' comments regarding disappearing characters, forgotten clues, and notable omission of information that readers crave. Instead, I'd like to talk about the book as audio. The experience of listening, rather than reading, probably exaggerated the flaws in this book. As others have noted, Hillerman repeats the backstory several times and a listener can't speed-read past it. There are stock phrases ("She considered this." "He considered this.") that pop up with annoying frequency. Although the reader was very good, it was difficult to cover up the fact that the writing isn't as evocative as in the past. And because I have a poorer auditory memory than visual one, I work very hard to keep details straight, a focus that revealed many errors of timing, contradiction, and omission.
As the mistakes and deteriorating writing wore on, I found myself wondering if someone else had taken on the writing of this book. If not, Hillerman's editors aren't paying the attention to his material that they should. Yes, he's an icon, but for that reason it's even more important that someone ensure that the quality of his work meets his past high standards.
I will probably get his next book from the library (as I did these CDs). I have almost all of his books, but as another reviewer noted, the writing doesn't justify the investment. Will the real Tony Hillerman please stand up and write again?
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2005
As a big Tony Hillerman fan, I was sadly disappointed in Skeleton Man. It's barely a mystery; Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee do little detecting and the "mystery" is solved unrealistically with little more than a few questions, a walk down a trail and dumb luck. Worse, there is little character development. Leaphorn and Chee are not in the book much, and Chee seems quite unlike himself. (His fiance questions whether she wants to marry her "hard-voiced sergeant." Hard-voiced? Chee?) And worst of all, several stories in the book are repeated over and over and over. What's happened to this wonderful series?
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2005
I just returned from a vacation in Albuquerque. While I was there, I was pleased to read that Tony Hillerman is still with us. After reading Skeleton Man, I had wondered. It occurred to me that perhaps Hillerman didn't write all of this book himself; it seems forced and mechanical.
First, let me say that I have read every one of Tony Hillerman's books, including his non-fiction, and I have great admiration for him. (He helped me fall in love with New Mexico to the extent that I will probably retire there.) But, his last few Navajo cop stories have been disappointing.
I had the feeling that Skeleton Man was written solely to allow Hillerman to check off one last item on his to-do list: getting Jim Chee finally married. But, he didn't even give us long-time fans a chance to observe the wedding (which must have had at least some interesting cultural aspects) - instead, we had to hear about it from the man of few words, Joe Leaphorn. I hope the question of whether Jim and Bernie will move out of the trailer wasn't meant as a cliffhanger.
The Grand Canyon action doesn't ring true. Having Bernie take off on her own against the advice (orders?) of Chee makes no sense. After all this time and his failed romances, does it make sense that Chee would fall for such a foolish woman? This was just an obvious and awkward (and interminably boring) set up for the action to come.
Leaphorn seemed to be out of character in this one. Since when did he spend hours and hours hanging out in the coffee shop talking? Is this a new literary device? Maybe it would have worked if the narrator had been someone other than Leaphorn.
I hope Tony Hillerman will hang it up and let us ponder for ourselves whether the trailer has to go and whether Joe will wed Louisa. I'd prefer the fond memories to another one of these books.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Anyone with such a long-running series as Hillerman has in the Navajo books is almost bound to suffer from a spectrum of quality. Some will be excellent, some good, some adequate, and some just bad. Usually, the trend is downward, as evidenced by several of the more recent Hillerman's and especially Sinister Pig. The good news on Skeleton Man is that it is better than Sinister; the bad news is that it only achieves the barely adequate level one step above.
Fans will recognize the familiar plot by now: Leaphorn and Chee work at different angles on the same case, puzzling pieces start to come together (often in the reader's mind first as he/she as access to both Leaphorn and Chee), Leaphorn muses on retirement, Chee muses on love, Native American myths pop up now and then, more pieces fall together, physical danger comes into play, the case is solved.
The structure and plot are familiar, but lacking in comparison to earlier novels. Leaphorn is barely present, though he starts off the book by introducing the already-solved case at a morning coffee (the rest is flashback). The introduction seems an awkward way to give him more time as nothing is added by having the case told in one long flashback form (we return to present time only at the very end). Worse, Leaphorn's actions in the case itself seem utterly superfluous, having little to no impact on other characters' action or on any of the results. And one section allowing Leaphorn some more "dramatic" lines with regard to age and mortality seems completely contrived. All in all, he could have been removed from the book at no loss, a sad statement for fans of the series and of this particular character.
While Chee has more booktime, it is not enough, as much of the book focuses on several of the adversarial characters, none of whom ring true as worthy adversaries or even as good characters. The sections on Native American mythology and local setting, strengths of Hillerman's earlier work, seem tacked on here. In other novels they permeate the story, either as wonderfully atmospheric background or as components integral to the plot. Here they come in a few strung together paragraphs now and then and seem more a nod to the fan who is looking for them than truly woven into the story.
In the end, the plot is repetitive in places, contrived in others, and at times really seems a bit unbelievable. All of this may have been saved anyway by the fondness we've accumulated for these characters, but they aren't fully present enough for that fondness to compensate. Skeleton Man isn't an awful book, but it isn't a very good one, and for Hillerman fans, it's a very disappointing one. Recommended for die-hards just to keep up with the characters with the warning to not expect much. Certainly not a book to recommend to start the series.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2005
This latest Chee/Leaphorn novel does not do enough to distinguish itself. What sets Hillerman apart from other mystery writers is the rich evocation of Southwestern landscape interwoven with Native American cultural and lifestyle descriptions. The plots are usually more or less interesting foils for this cultural/landscape portrait. When overly complex plots about corrupt Belagona behavior dominate the books the "real" Hillerman is diminished. Such is the case with Skeleton Man which does not really get interesting until Chee et al descend into the Grand Canyon near the end of the book.
Unfortunately, this is the case with most of the later Hillerman books. I long for the good old days of "The Blessing Way", "Thief of Time", "Listening Woman" and "The Dark Wind".
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2005
Tony Hillerman is admirable for many things; unfortunately this book is not one of them.
Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee return to help Jim's old friend, Cowboy Dashee, clear his mentally handicapped cousin of a robbery and murder charge. Chee and Bernie Manuelito are going to be married. Leaphorn is invited by Captain Pinto to look into a robbery-murder case because of certain similarities in the accussed's story to one that surfaced years before in the Short Mountain Trading Post burgulary case that Leaphorn had investigated. Leaphorn hears that Shorty McGinnis is dead but goes to check it out. However, little detecting goes into this story. It is more of a paint-by-numbers adventure story. The pieces are all there and in the right place but the prose is repetitious; Hillerman has to have every character tell the same story over and over. Still, Hillerman remains a master of weaving native Southwestern myth into modern situations and communicates very well how myth is made.
The story has the feel of a second-hand story that you are repeating to a friend without first organizing it. Maybe that was the intention given how the book begins and ends, but, if so, this experiment failed. I get the feeling that the deadline for the book came before he had time to rewrite and the editor didn't bother. If you are new to this series, don't start here. Read the first books in this series. This has been a very entertaining series and may continue to be. I hope so.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
There are few places in the U.S. with as many legends as the tribal lands of the West. In Skeleton Man, Tony Hillerman weaves a fictional tale around a real occurrence-the collision of two commercial planes above the Grand Canyon in 1956.
John Clarke is a diamond merchant with a cache of diamonds chained to his wrist. One of these precious blue-white gems is intended for his fiancée, who is pregnant with their child. While flying home, his plane collides with another over the Grand Canyon, and bodies and debris rain down for miles. Clarke's father refuses to acknowledge his son's fiancée or child. Years later, Clarke's daughter, Joanna Craig, sets out to prove her paternity and to claim the inheritance she has been denied. The discovery of two diamonds brings her to the Grand Canyon in an effort to find her father's arm (which legend says was seen chained to the case of diamonds). Her search is not so much for the diamonds, but for DNA. But there are also those who have a lot to lose if Joanna is successful, and they set about trying to obstruct her investigation.
Jim Chee, Bernie Manuelito, Cowboy Dashee and Joe Leaphorn are all pulled into the case in varying degrees. They must wade through legends, traditions and 277 miles of Grand Canyon to solve this mystery. Some Hillerman books are better, and some efforts worse-but I enjoy any effort that educates the reader on Native American traditions (which Skeleton Man does provide). Also the information about the Grand Canyon is fascinating. However, it's hokey to think that an arm bone can be found in the canyon decades after a crash.
One of the subplots is the impending marriage between Officer Jim Chee and spunky Officer Bernie Manuelito. Jim Chee has been engaged twice before, and as Manuelito starts to get cold feet, we wonder if the third time will really be a charm for Chee.
Tony Hillerman continues to be one of my favorite mystery writers, and fans will enjoy Skeleton Man despite some flaws.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2004
There's little I can add to what has gone before in these reviews. The plot has been clearly summarised.
But from the point of view of an English Woman now settled, living and loving in Rock Point, AZ (in a predominantly Navajo population) -one of the remotest parts of the Navajo Nation I can only marvel yet again at how well Hillerman captures what is now my part of the world.
Inevitably the series is running down-it's a sad factor of age, but Skeleton Man contains all the things a good Hillerman must have: A tight plot, spare writing- no words wasted, realism, characters you care about - if too little of old favourites but it also has a broader sense of closure. There was a sense of Sinister Pig being the last book in the series, but it is more strongly felt in this book.
Cherish what we have don't complain! This book is brilliant! It's not often I see anyone out here reading in public outside the school and I have seen three people from teenage to elderly with this book this week.
Hillerman is on top form here and it would be churlish of me to critcise a book which ties up and rounds out charaters as the author himself must be coming to terms with his own aging.
You'll only be depriving yourself if you give this book a miss. I loved it, both as part of the Leaphorn and Chee novels but also on it's own. Read it, enjoy and then come out here and see the Navajo Nation for yourself if you haven't already done so!