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The First Eagle Hardcover – July 29, 1998

4.2 out of 5 stars 189 customer reviews
Book 13 of 20 in the Leaphorn and Chee Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It seems like July 8 is going to be a bad day for Acting Lieutenant Jim Chee. He's got a stack of overdue paperwork on his desk. Anderson Nez has died of plague, but the circumstances around the death are murky. His ex-fiancée, Janet Pete, is returning from Washington, D.C., and Chee doesn't know what to think about her last letter. (Will they be getting married this time?) And Officer Benny Kinsman's unwanted advances have enraged Catherine Pollard (among others), one of the scientists studying this newest outbreak of the black death. Now, the hot-headed Kinsman's gone off to nab a Hopi man who's poaching eagles. When Chee is called to back Kinsman up at Yells Back Butte, the bad day turns worse. He finds the young Hopi, Robert Jano, standing over Benny's mortally wounded body. Jano insists that he did not kill the police officer. Add to all this Joe Leaphorn's separate investigation, also involving July 8. Joe's got a new role as consulting detective to the wealthy--investigating the July 8 disappearance at Yells Back Butte of the same Catherine Pollard who was dogged by Kinsman.

This one bad day and the ensuing days of investigation bring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee together once again as they uncover the secret of Yells Back Butte, plague fleas, and skinwalkers. As usual, Hilllerman's ear for dialogue is remarkable. One does not read Leaphorn and Chee's words and thoughts as much as hear them. While the book invites new readers (little knowledge of the previous books in the series is presumed), one has the sense of entering an old neighborhood where friends and relations are established and emotions run deep. Jim Chee's pain is vivid as he struggles under the shadow of Leaphorn and questions the "rusty trailer" lifestyle that has driven him apart from Janet. Nothing is contrived in his mixture of fear and elation when he and Janet meet again.

Hillerman has written an engaging novel that once again evokes the land and people of the Southwest while also confronting the cultural separateness of the region from the power centers of the East. Already honored for his previous work (Dance Hall of the Dead received the Edgar), The First Eagle is a welcome addition to the beloved Chee-Leaphorn series that began in 1971 with The Blessing Way. --Patrick O'Kelley

From Publishers Weekly

The modern resurgence of the black death animates Hillerman's 14th tale featuring retired widower Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Acting Lieutenant Jim Chee. Bubonic plague has survived for centuries in the prairie-dog villages of the Southwest, where its continuing adaptation to modern antibiotics has increased its potential for mass destruction. Leaphorn is hired by a wealthy Santa Fe woman to search for her granddaughter, biologist Catherine Pollard, who has disappeared during her field work as a "flea catcher," collecting plague-carrying specimens from desert rodents. At the same time, Jim Chee arrests Robert Jano, a young Hopi man and known poacher of eagles, in the bludgeoning death of another Navajo Police officer at a site where the biologist was seen working. As Leaphorn learns more about Pollard's work from her boss in the Indian Health Service and an epidemiologist with ties to a pharmaceutical company, the U.S. Attorney's office decides to seek the death penalty against Jano, who is being represented by Chee's former fiancee, Janet Pete, recently returned from Washington, D.C. Hillerman's trademark melding of Navajo tradition and modern culture is captured with crystal clarity in this tale of an ancient scourge's resurgence in today's world. The uneasy mix of old ways and new is articulated with resonant depth as Chee, an aspiring shaman, is driven to choose between his career and his commitment to the ways of his people, and Leaphorn moves into a deeper friendship with ethnology professor, Louisa Bourebonette. Author tour. (Aug.) FYI: Simultaneous release by HarperAudio in abridged ($25 ISBN 0-694-52011-X) and unabridged ($34.95 ISBN 0-694-52051-9) editions.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (July 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060175818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060175818
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #615,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tony Hillerman was the former president of the Mystery Writers of America and received its Edgar® and Grand Master awards. His other honors include the Center for the American Indian's Ambassador Award, the Silver Spur Award for the best novel set in the West, and the Navajo Tribe's Special Friend Award. He lived with his wife in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Tony Hillerman novels explore two landscapes - the red rock/AAA Indian Country map landscape and the landscape of intersecting cultures and law enforcement agencies. The First Eagle spends most of its time in the second landscape, and for that reason, it's good police procedural and good but not great Hillerman. Chee is now an Acting Lieutenant and Leaphorn is retired [but still the Legendary Lieutenant Leaphorn in Chee's mind]. Despite the fact that Chee is a cop and Leaphorn is trying out the role of private investigator, our two main characters still solve the crime when they put their heads together. This is a story of agencies - health agencies looking for plague bacteria and hantavirus and law enforcement agencies looking for killers and good press. Differing points of view provide much of the tension in the story [Hopi v. Navajo, Washington v. the rez, Jim Chee v. Janet Pete, the truth v. political gain]. Yells Back Butte is the place where Jim Chee's murder investigation and Joe Leaphorn's missing person case intersect. If you must have lots of red rock in your Hillerman, First Eagle may disappoint you. I enjoyed The First Eagle, but not enough to give it the fifth star. A plea to all mystery reviewers: please don't give away the ending! I read some of the reviews on this site when I was part way through the book and one of the reviews gives away too much information about the killer while stating the reasons for the reviewer's displeasure.
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Format: Hardcover
Okay, so "Eagle" and for that matter "Falling Man" weren't up to the standards set by "Talking God"/"Coytoe Waits," but it's still a fine read. The pages seem to turn themselves and suddenly what started as "only one chapter" has turned into half the book.
The Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn relationship is in top form, and I believe most people can remember a time when they were the very junior member of a working relationship. It's very easy to be dazzled and intimidated by someone for years. It's also understandible the inevitible dread that Leaphorn brings into Chee's life. Seeing him usually means that Chee messed up somewhere along the line, and nobody likes to be reminded of that.
Being from Shiprock, I love reading about my home. Hillerman's descriptions are dead-on of the land, the terrain and the people. I adored this novel for its sensitive handling of the hauntavirus crisis and the terror it invokes every year. Hilerman knows, understands.
I realize that anglos not native to the four corners area feel an intellectual pride in reading Hilerman. I wish they wouldn't. I don't know how many times people have given me some sort of spiel about how connected they feel to me because they read "Skinwalker". Hilerman's a great writer, granted, but I'm not a character in his book.
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By A Customer on June 15, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I understand why some of the other reviewers say that this is one of Mr. Hillerman's weaker efforts, however, I disagree with the conclusion that he is coasting. When I first began the book it was like meeting an old friend, all of the familiar likeable characters are there as is the imagery. If they are present in a lesser degree than in earlier works, I think it because Mr. Hillerman is justifiably building on the earlier works. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. The work also shows its quality in the development of even minor characters such as Mac Guiness. He and his trading post have been seen throughout the series but in First Eagle Tony Hillerman has visibly aged each. You can almost see the dust in the trading post and smell the stale whiskey. This "character-aging" is poignant with the current condition of Jim Chee's uncle Hosteen Nicae. Moreover, the plot is chilling and intelligently developed. Tony Hillerman has hit upon a real, significant issue. The medical-scientific discussions were lucid and well thought out. Finally, Jim Chee should definitely dump Janet Peet.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Jim Chee has become the temporary commander of the Tuba City unit of the Navajo Tribal Police. One of his deputies is killed investigating the poaching of eagles by a young Hopi man. Nearby, Dr. Woody, an epidemiologist, is studying populations of prairie dogs, etc. which serve as reservoirs for various deceases. Suddenly, Woody's assistant dies of the black plaque. In "The First Eagle", "legendary lieutenant" Joe Leaphorn has retired, but is hired, essentially as a private detective, to look for Catherine Pollard, a biologist working for the Indian Health Service as a "vector control specialist, trapping rodents looking for the source of a recent outbreak of bubonic plague, who disappeared.

I don't normally mention sidestories in reviews, but they are important in "The First Eagle" and a few other novels in the series. In these, the mystery (and associated plot) is almost secondary, almost just a vehicle, for the poignant and insightful "sidestories".

In addition to being younger and more impetuous (or hotheaded and impatient, in Leaphorn's view), Jim Chee differs from Joe Leaphorn in being a more traditional Navajo. Indeed, he has trained to be a "singer", that is, a shaman or healer. Chee's fiancee (half-Navaho, lawyer) Janet Pete is returning from work in Washington D.C., and is the public defender for the Hopi accused of killing the deputy. One of Chee's policewomen, (full-blood Navajo) Berndadette Manueletto has a crush on him. Although a widower for a year, Joe Leaphorn is developing a relationship with ("white") anthropologist, Louisa Bourbonette. It is an important element of the series that while Leaphorn is drifting "White", Chee is drifting "Red".
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