Talking God is a mystery novel by Tony Hillerman, one of many in the “Leaphorn and Chee” series. The series is about as predictable as any mystery series—Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and tribal policeman Jim Chee keep getting thrown together as they solve mysteries. What makes this different from a run-of-the-mill Agatha Christie is the setting: a Navajo reservation.
There are only a couple hundred thousand Navajo people (registered) in the world, so that makes Hillerman’s novels feel exotic for most readers, including myself. I mean, I’m a little closer geographically, but it’s still eye-opening to read the cultural details he puts into his novels. And while Hillerman himself isn’t Navajo, he seems to have done his research well: in 1987 he received the “Special Friend of the Dineh” award (“Dineh” means “people” in Navajo,) and his work in Talking God treats native customs with respect.
Anyway. Enough about the culture. Talking God is a good, cozy mystery novel in which a dead body is found by the train tracks—far from the stop—with no footprints nearby. The body is missing its teeth and has no identifying information on it, except for a scrap of paper with the name “Agnes Tsosie” and the name of a ritual involving the Talking God. Chee and Leaphorn end up in Washington D.C. separately— investigating the unidentified body, and questioning a White man who claims to be Navajo and has gotten into trouble with the law for grave-robbing.
The book is a fun read, action-packed, with some twists and turns I didn’t expect. I’ll probably pick up some more books in the series later on. ♦