Customer Reviews: Dance Hall of the Dead (Navajo Mysteries Book 2)
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Tony Hillerman has written a list of novels so distinctively unique that they could classify as a genre unto themselves. With their brilliant depiction of Native American cultures and life in our Western desert, these novels are much more than detective/thrillers. When I first read Hillerman, starting with one of his more recent books, I thought that his mystery, as a mystery, was rather slight. Nevertheless, I was captivated. And as I continued to read, I realized that the reader becomes so caught up in Hillerman's world, so enamored by the ceremonials, religious practices and daily lives of these native people, that one can almost lose sight of the unfolding mystery. Not so, however, wih this early award-winning novel. In this novel, suspense builds to a smashing crescendo, while his portrayal of the Zuni's Dance Hall of the Dead ceremonial is perhaps the most fascinating of all such portrayals.
The story begins with Ernesto Cata, a twelve-year-old Zuni boy, proudly and diligently practicing for his role as Little Fire God, in which he will lead his village and dance an all-night attendance on the Council of the Gods. But, in a practice run, the boy comes face to face with a kachina. An initiated and well-tutored Zuni, Ernesto knows what it means to see a kachina. And suddenly the Little Fire God has disappeared, leaving behind a pool of blood to soak into the desert sand. Then his best friend George Bowlegs, a Navaho, is also missing and Joe Leaphorn of the Navaho Tribal Police is called in to find him. When Leaphorn himself sees a kachina, he remembers a Zuni friend telling him that no one sees this spirit of the Zuni dead unless he himself is about to die. . .And far out on the desert, searching for the Navaho boy who reportedly has gone in search of the kachinas, Leaphorn stumbles into a trap. Shot with a tranquilizer hypodermic he is rendered physically helpless, unable to move a muscle. But his mind and senses are left super-alert and he can hear his stalker coming. . .
The story of! the kachinas and the ceremonial held each year in honor of these benevolent spirits, so they will bring fertility to the seeds and rain to the dry land, gives this early novel a power that Hillerman has not since surpassed. But each of his books widens the window he has given us onto this Native world -- a view that enriches all Americans, while filling us with poignancy for all that has been lost to the American experience.
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on October 7, 2002
This is the second book in the "Navajo Detective" series by Tony Hillerman and the first in which detective Joe Leaphorn is the principal charactor.
Dance Hall of the Dead is a sad story. It concerns the murder or disppearance of two boys, a Navajo and a Zuni, and Joe Leaphorn's efforts to find the missing boys. The riddle is entwined with Zuni religious ceremonies which Leaphorn, a Navajo, tries to understand.
Hillerman gives a virtual travelogue of the Zuni and Navajo country of New Mexico and Arizona in the early 1970s when the book was written. Leaphorn is a thoroughly likeable hero, rational, even-tempered, and ethical with a compulsion to get to the bottom of things. Hillerman is a master of creating an exotic atmosphere of Zuni and Navajo culture and ceremonies overlaid by the splendor of the natural setting. With such ornament, it hardly matters that the solution to the mystery itself is not very convincing.
What a great title! If you're a wide-open-spaces-kind-of-a-person Hillerman is unbeatable as a mystery writer with a western twist. In Joe Leaphorn he has created a fictional detective who can take his place among the all-time best.
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First published in 1973, DANCE HALL OF THE DEAD was and is still considered among the best of Tony Hillerman's "Joe Leaphorn" novels, a series set on Southwestern Native American lands and following the adventures of Lt. Leaphorn as he investigates crimes on the reservation. In this particular novel, Leaphorn, a Navajo, is summoned to Zunni lands to assist in a particularly unpleasant crime: a Zunni teenager's blood has soaked the land, but his body is missing--and so is the Navajo teenager who was with him.

As usual, Hillerman writes in a strong prose voice, and much of the novel's interest stems from his depiction of the character, traditions, and lore of Native Americans who live on the reservation. Unlike some other Hillerman novels, the plot is fairly tight and does indeed live up to its description as a mystery--but even so the mystery here is remarkably transparent; even the most niave reader should be able to spot both killer and motive in the first quarter of the novel. That is unfortunate--but still, Hillerman's expert prose and his portrait of Native American society make DANCE HALL OF THE DEAD an interesting, entertaining, and often informative read. Generally recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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on January 26, 2001
When every book in a series rates five stars, how do you choose a favorite? It's hard, especially with Hillerman's Leaphorn-Chee series. But if push comes to shove and I *have* to pick a favorite, I guess this is it.
I have at times been tempted to think that Hillerman's appeal is partly 'merely' the appeal of his Navajo setting and 'adopted roots.' This book proves that it isn't the case. Abandoning the Navajo Reservation for a change and traveling to the much smaller Zuni one, the author shows us once and for all that he doesn't have to stay on The Big Res to keep us hooked or to educate us about authentic Native American issues.
In the summer of 1998 I took all of the Hillerman books then published on a trip with me to Arizona and New Mexico, and used them as travel guides as I toured all the places he writes about. Though it was greener than I expected, the Zuni reservation was laid out exactly as described, and, while outsiders are no longer allowed to view Shalako, Hillerman's descriptions of the original Zuni pueblo and environs proved to be bang-on accurate. Then I traveled west into the territory where Leaphorn undergoes his 'Helpless Hero' scene, and again the canyons and mesas proved to be exactly as described.
But that's all pretty much beside the point. Hillerman may be the prime tour guide of the Southwest, but his real strength is his characters, and here this book excels. George Cata is so real you can almost reach out and touch him, and so are all of the principal participants in the Shalako. The sinister 'white guys' are as creepy as anything Mario Puzo ever came up with, and Leaphorn, of course, towers over all.
Though the Navajos involved are pretty much peripheral to the main plot, except of course for the kid who wants to be Zuni and the policeman himself, this book is just as authentic, just as suspenseful, and just as moving, as any of the others. And the tour-de-force suspense plot puts it over the top.
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on January 12, 2001
Many books from the early seventies seem sort of comical almost 30 years later. The hippies, Watergate, Vietnam were very real but the writing of the times often doesn't hold up well. This book is a nice exception.
Dance Hall of the Dead is one of the earliest of the Leaphorn/Chee series. In many ways it sets up (and epitomizes) the formula that has made this books so popular. Leaphorn (and Chee) is both a Navajo and an everyman. The mystery will lead to encounters with the white culture and another southwestern Native American culture -- in this case the Zuni's. And yes, there will be a serious dose of southwestern history, culture and spirituality. And, in the case of this book and many others, the case will be solved due to some violation of a cultural taboo by a bad guy outside of that culture. The pacing will be that of the southwest -- a mellower clock that the coasts operate on.
What stands out in this book is the author's insights on the mindsets of teenagers. More specifically, what happens when the usual teenage angst is complicated by trying to live in multiple cultures as is the case of the missing boy, George. George is a Navajo, living in modern America with all of its white culture, who wants to be a Zuni. Ah, youth....
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on March 17, 2012
Analytical patterns of well formed suspense.

Three Joe Leaphorn mysteries originally published in the 1970's. For his appreciation of Navajo culture, author Tony Hillerman is recognized by tribal elders as a friend of the Navajo nation. And while he doesn't preach at you, each story and their characters either belie particular respect for or total disregard of the traditions of the people. Having read these novels as well as Tony Hillerman : Three Jim Chee Mysteries ( People of Darkness / The Dark Wind / The Ghostway ) , I think I've gleaned a little better appreciation for the Navajo cultural value to never step over another human being. It enlightens my understanding of disregard my parents have often displayed for people they labeled "social-climbers".

The characters of Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are Navajo tribal policemen. They're not self-invested phonies. By contrast, the villains are truly evil about the way they waste human lives. Hozro, the Navajo concept of balance, harmony, order, walking in beauty is a much explored topic in the character development of Detective Joe Leaphorn. His relationship to the People is defined in terms of heritage and the interconnectedness between all things natural. To the Navajo, all that is natural is the good, as opposed to the un-natural, the taboo or the ghost of witchcraft.

The Officer Chee novels also expand on the Navajo concept of Chin-di, the evil ghost of the dead. It encapsulates all the un-natural unrealized expectations of a spent life, broken taboos, un-natural values. East coast cultures would find corollary with the "Evil Mind" concept, which must always be resisted throughout life. The Navajo culture doesn't incorporate an afterlife. It merely accepts that good and natural is what life is born from, and good and natural is what life returns too in death. There's a really stark and bitter irony about the world being well 'protected' from all those old people locked up in boarding homes, an utterly alien value to tribal cultures.

Since it looks like we're all going to have to get used to the shock of the $60-100 fill ups at the gas pump, I'm including links to a couple of the individual titles from these collections. They're notable for illustrating inter-dependence between individuals from very different tribal cultures on the big reservation. The author takes us on exploratory ventures into Hopi and Zuni ceremony with these titles.

Dance Hall of the Dead

The Dark Wind (Jim Chee Novels)

I'll be continuing to explore the suspense and drama of Tony Hillerman's characters, and hope you will too. Wishing you all a good read.
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on January 19, 2012
I do miss Tony Hillerman.
This book has four storys that takes a farm boys imagination on a cold winters night head to the southwest, to follow a man name Joe Leaphorn.
The four corners own Sherlock Holmes.
From the first time you meet Joe and Chee and the rest of the people Hillerman brings to life in his books, your hooked.
I know they are not real, but I have to confess.
Everytime I am in the four corner area, I expect to see Joe or Chee drive by.
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on September 6, 2015
I read three Tony Hillerman novels because I wanted a new, Southwest-based series that featured some interesting cultural stuff. I have to say I found Hillerman's books very depressing. Don't want to give spoilers, but three things consistently bothered me: (1) things don't tend to end well, (2) the protagonists are hapless and ineffectual, and (3) the Indian characters in the book are minor compared to white guys from back East. If I wanted to read about East-Coast academics I would not pick a Southwestern series. Also the girls tend to have to be saved. This all applies to all three Hillerman novels I read, not this one in particular.
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on October 20, 2015
This is the second Tony HIllerman book that I have read and it was a gripping story. I just finished it this morning. My husband and I like to read together and this has been a great series for us since our daughter began teaching on the Navajo reservation. We have found Hiillerman's writing to be excellent, holding our attention to the very last. He is very descriptive and uses imagery very well. It has been extremely interesting to learn a lot more about the Native American cultures (as each tribe actually has its own). The challenging thing about reading his work is that there are so many unfamiliar words that are related to the cultures that we have to slow down to absorb a lot of it. My brother-in-law recommended this to us and I would recommend it to anyone else, too.
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on May 23, 2014
Tony Hillerman's "Dance Hall of the Dead" is a very well done book. The writing is really well done, Joe Leaphorn has been nicely fleshed out from the first book, and the dichotomy in world views he's presenting is darn interesting. About the only thing I can ding is that the mystery is fairly obvious from pretty near the beginning. But, still, it's a very well done, enjoyable book. I rate it at a Very Good 4 stars out of 5.

Hillerman's "Leaphorn & Chee" novels are:

1. The Blessing Way
2. Dance Hall of the Dead
3. Listening Woman
4. People of Darkness
5. The Dark Wind
6. The Ghostway (Jim Chee Novels)
7. Skinwalkers
8. A Thief of Time
9. Talking God
10. Coyote Waits
11. Sacred Clowns: Novel, A
12. The Fallen Man
13. The First Eagle
14. Hunting Badger
15. The Wailing Wind
16. The Sinister Pig
17. Skeleton Man
18. The Shape Shifter
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