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The Shape Shifter Hardcover – November 21, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A picture cut from a glossy magazine, Luxury Living, draws retired Navajo tribal policeman Lt. Joe Leaphorn into a hunt for a soulless killer in bestseller Hillerman's enthralling 18th Leaphorn/Chee whodunit (after 2004's Skeleton Man). The picture's sender, Mel Bork, another cop retiree, wonders if the distinctive Navajo rug shown in the picture is the same one Leaphorn described to him long ago, a rug supposedly destroyed in a fire the two officers investigated that took the life of a person identified as among the FBI's most wanted. Bork's subsequent disappearance and murder herald the dangers awaiting Leaphorn from a most formidable enemy. As Leaphorn searches for evidence to confirm his suspicions, he enlists the aid of Sgt. Jim Chee and his bride, Bernadette Manuelito, just back from their honeymoon. Only Hillerman could so masterfully connect such disparate elements as an ancient cursed weaving, two stolen buckets of piñon sap and the Vietnam War. The conclusion is sure to startle longtime fans of this acclaimed mystery series. (Nov.)
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'If you've already read Tony know how great this experience is going to be. If you're new to his work, well, I envy you' HARLAN COBEN 'Hillerman is the greatest living practitioner of the classic US tradition of spare, lean writing' THE INDEPENDENT --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (November 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060563451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060563455
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (227 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #774,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

178 of 212 people found the following review helpful By Mick McAllister on November 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tony Hillerman's Navajo series includes a few of the best books in the genre: Skinwalkers, A Thief of Time, and Coyote Waits, for example. But for some years now, the books have been poorly written and what is more tiresome, miserably edited. HarperCollins obviously doesn't see any reason to clean up a Hillerman manuscript. They ignore contradictions, spelling and grammar errors, mistakes with names, and inconsistencies. And the fulsome reviews that sell the books at Amazon justify HC's contempt for readers.

This book is terrible. It is full of tired diction. The pat phrase overused in this one is "Lt. Leaphorn, retired": start keeping count when you get bored. It's not as irritating as "the legendary Lieutenant" (which turns up occasionally), but it gets old fast.

The "experimenting" with chronology is simply bad plotting. Joe can't be "retired a few months" if Jim and Bernie are married, except in an alternate universe. And Louisa is apparently not living with him any more, but he's forgotten she ever did, so it's Ok. In fact, maybe we are supposed to think Joe is getting senile, because at one point he ponders that something was "why he had decided to go home"; the problem? He's in a motel room for the night, obviously not "going home."

But the real clincher is the crime itself. As the story develops, we are supposed to believe that an international mega-criminal worth millions would set up an elaborate robbery of a trading post in the middle of the Navajo rez. At the end, Leaphorn mentions the genius of the guy because "he always left no witnesses." Unfortunately, he says this to one of the three witnesses to the trading post crime; in fact, one of three accomplices he spent weeks with and then betrayed to the police.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Prometheus on April 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
THE SHAPE SHIFTERS is a thin book: thin on story, the plotting is horrible, and the (bad) editing is beyond belief. Also, a few principal characters are unbelievable (Tommy Vang comes to mind) as are their motivations (the antagonist fits in here). So, what happened with this book? Good question. The answer might be that it's a draft of an earlier book that was never finished. Given the sequence of events (Leaphorn's "recent retirement," living or not living with Louisa, the technical inaccuracies on driving distances, etc.), I think this was a book that should have been published earlier in the series, but now, badly re-written and edited to fit into the current sequence. And, as a result, the book is a mess.

It would be pointless to recount the story because there isn't much to it. You can figure out the bad guy in the first 30 pages. All the clues are there and what is astonishing is that the FBI and Leaphorn could not figure it out when they investigated the original deaths back in the 1960's. Astounding given the evidence they had available to them. So, then, where does that leave us?

This was a history lesson that did not work as a mystery. It's one of Mr. Hillerman's misses in terms of fusing Navajo history and folk lore with his experiences (and the U.S. involvement) in Vietnam. The tales of the woven rug are very well written and that's the heart and star of this story. When the novel ventures overseas (flashbacks only) to Vietnam with the history lesson of Tommy Vang's people (even with the similarities to the Navajo), the story runs out of steam and gets bogged down in an unbelievable arch that does not work and really, makes no sense. Why would this smart and rich person kill someone over a few thousand dollars?

There are rumors that Mr.
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50 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on December 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Several of Tony Hillerman's latest efforts have been disappointing. He seemed to have gotten away from what his readers loved. Joe Leaphorn was playing second fiddle to several other characters; there was less of an emphasis on Navajo rituals, mythology and religion, and in one rendition (THE SINISTER PIG) he'd gone so far as to leave the reservation altogether.

Apparently Tony has been listening to the criticism, because in THE SHAPE SHIFTER Joe Leaphorn is back at center stage, the mythology is back, and Joe spends most of the book driving around the reservation, giving us a good look around. Some of the great minor characters are back as well, the best of which is Grandma Peshlakai, who was greatly irritated with Joe as a young man when he couldn't find the thief who'd stolen her buckets of pinyon sap.

Shape shifter is just another name for skinwalker and there's another one on the prowl in Hillerman's latest mystery. The newly retired Leaphorn is trying to find out why "Woven Sorrow," a Navajo rug supposedly worth in the neighborhood of two hundred thousand dollars which supposedly burned in a gallery fire, seems to be hanging on a wall in LUXURY LIVING, a magazine he's been shown. Hillerman's description of the rug and the story behind its weaving gives him an opportunity to wax poetic about Navajo mythology. We're also treated to a mini-sermon on Navajo religion. The Navajo elders had condemned the rug because it violated the Navajo tradition: The Dineh taught its people to live in peace and harmony, and the rug seemed to be harping on past transgressions, including Bosque Redondo and The Long Walk Home.

The plot deals with Leaphorn's efforts to find out whether a serial killer who was supposedly burned up in the gallery fire is still at large.
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