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Skeleton Man (Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee Novels) Hardcover – November 23, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 175 customer reviews
Book 17 of 20 in the Leaphorn and Chee Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Joe Leaphorn, former Navajo tribal police lieutenant, is not a happy retiree. So when his successor asks him to look into how a young Hopi named Billy Tuve came by a valuable diamond the boy tried to pawn for a fraction of its worth, Joe finds himself involved in a five decade old mystery. It dates back to a plane crash in the Grand Canyon, one that took the life of a man whose putative daughter also has an interest in the diamond; it could lead her to her father's remains, from which she hopes to extract enough DNA to establish her birthright. For good measure, Hillerman adds a couple of villains determined to beat her to the site of the crash, a cache of other diamonds long since given up for lost in the Canyon's watery depths, and a Hopi ritual that's kept the site secret for years. It's a good yarn, well but twice told; Hillerman sets it up in a chronologically confusing opening chapter, in which Joe spins the story for a couple of former law-enforcement colleagues--not just to entertain or enlighten them but to demonstrate what he calls his "Navajo belief in universal connections. The cause leads to inevitable effect. The entire cosmos being an infinitely complicated machine all working together."

Hillerman is a name-brand writer with a huge and well deserved following. His evocation of the landscape of the Southwest is as compelling as it ever was, and many familiar characters from the other 18 novels in this prize-winning series appear here, notably Sergeant Jim Chee and border patrol officer Bernie Manuelito, the woman Chee hopes to marry. Joe Leaphorn remains his most fully-realized protagonist; his perspective on life, destiny, and the sometimes uneasy truce between Native Americans and whites gives this series a unique place in the genre. But as evidenced by his latest, Hillerman's hero needs more than a retired duffer's memories to keep him vital and alive, even for his most dedicated fans. --Jane Adams

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In MWA Grandmaster Hillerman's sterling 17th Chee/Leaphorn novel, a 1956 collision between passenger planes high above the Grand Canyon leaves a courier's arm and attached diamond-filled security case unaccounted for after almost half a century. Enter retired Navajo Tribal Police Lt. Joe Leaphorn, who must try to connect the dots between an old robbery involving a valuable diamond and a more recent crime involving another diamond, both of which may somehow be related to the plane-crash jewels. The puzzle soon draws in fellow Navajo officer Sgt. Jim Chee and former cop Bernie Manuelito, Chee's soon-to-be bride. Billy Tuve, a cousin of Chee's lawman buddy Cowboy Dashee, is arrested after trying to pawn a gem believed to have come from the more recent robbery. Dashee enlists Chee's help to verify Tuve's story of a mysterious old man who gave him the jewel during a journey to a canyon-bottom shrine. But the good guys soon learn there are plenty more people in the hunt, and some will stop at nothing to get what they're after. The stakes are high and the danger escalates clear through to the final pages. Hillerman continues to shine as the best of the West.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee Novels
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (November 23, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060563443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060563448
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #671,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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*

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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?
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Format: Hardcover
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?
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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