Cave of Bones (A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel) by Anne Hillerman

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

Cave of BonesManuelito is asked to fill in as a speaker for a group of troubled kids on an outdoor adventure. She didn’t want to do it but reluctantly agreed . However, when she arrives at the group’s campsite, she discovers one of the campers failed to return from the solo overnight portion of the trip and a counselor went to find her. He too has failed to return. Eventually the missing girl does show up but the counselor does not and Manuelito calls out a search and rescue team. The girl who was missing is the daughter of a tribal council woman and so almost immediately politics enter into the mix with the mother trying to prevent the police from questioning the girl who may hold the key to locating the counselor. Eventually Annie, the girl, does speak with Manuelito and among other things describes the cave where she spent the night as filled with bones. This causes Manuelito in to notify authorities so the cave can be found and secured before the bones are disturbed anymore as the cave might be a sacred Navajo burial site and at the very least it contains human remains which the Navajo do not touch.

From there Manuelito gets involved with the foundation that runs the camp, stumbles onto a pot stealing ring and gets caught up in a lot of bad weather.

Meanwhile, Chee is in Santa Fe for a training course and also takes some time to check in with Darlene, Manuelito’s troubles sister who is there for a short art course.

Leaphorn is only present in the background of this installment of the series, occasionally digging up information for Chee and Manuelito, but for the most part he is not a factor.

Anne Hillerman returns with her fourth book featuring Manuelito, Chee and Leaphorn in Cave of Bones. I enjoyed this book but there were a few things about it that didn’t quite measure up to her previous books in the series.

First, the main plot of the book with Manuelito and the cave is interesting and what readers would expect from a Hillerman (either Tony or Anne), filled with Navajo traditions and ways. This is why people read these books. But even though the subject was there, the poetic voice of her father was missing. I believe this is due to the author relying on the characters’ dialogue to move the story along versus having the reader privy to their inner thoughts. Secondly, the part of the book involving Chee wasn’t really much of a plot thread, though in the end there was a loose connection to the main plot. I hated seeing Chee reduced to chasing after Darlene and for what this all contributed to the main plot, it was too large of a part of the book. Lastly, I really missed Leaphorn in this book. He wasn’t much more of a cameo figure which is too bad. His mental thought processing of a situation is one of the things that set these books apart from other Native American mysteries.

Every series has a book or two that don’t quite hold up to the rest of the series. Cave of Bones was that book. I am hopeful that the next book we will have more of Leaphorn, less Darlene, more thought and less choppy dialogue.

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