Song of the Lion (A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel) by AnneHillerman

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Song of the LionSong of the Lion is a continuation of the Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito series. This engrossing and fast-paced mystery is set in Southwestern United States, and Navajo Police Officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito is the central figure in the book.

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Bernie is off duty and watching a student versus alumni basketball game at Shiprock High School gym that is packed with fans, when there is a noise that grabs her attention. She rushes to the parking lot and discovers that a car has exploded, multiple cars are damaged, and a young unidentified man is gravely injured. Bernie immediately calls the police station for back-up and works at both keeping the crime scene from being contaminated and the crowd from panicking.

Since the car was rigged with a bomb, federal agencies take the lead on the case. The owner of the demolished car is a lawyer, Aza Palmer, who is the mediator between Native Americans, environmentalists, economic developers, government agencies, and other interested parties who are gathering together to discuss a highly controversial proposed resort development on Navajo land near the Grand Canyon. As a result of the bombing and threatening e-mails, Bernie’s husband, Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police, is assigned to be Palmer’s bodyguard during the negotiation meetings in Tuba City.

Bernie is tasked with tracking down potential witnesses to the bombing. During her investigation, she visits retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, a mentor and friend, to ask for his input. As Leaphorn reviews old police files, he becomes suspicious that the bombing could be tied to one of his old cases. After the young man in the car, who succumbs to his injuries, is identified, Bernie finds out there is a connection between Palmer and the victim. Tensions are escalating between opposing sides in the development discussions, and protestors are sabotaging the meeting sites. Is Palmer being singled out because of his mediator job, or because of something in his personal life? Will Bernie, Chee, and Leaphorn solve the case before the perpetrator strikes again?

Anne Hillerman has seamlessly interwoven details about the Navajo, San Juan Paiutes, and Hopi history, beliefs, folklore, and rituals into the story. This tight, well-plotted mystery contains unexpected twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and eagerly turning the pages until they reach the climatic ending. Hillerman does an excellent job of showing the serious complications that arise when economic developers are more interested in attaining their goals than they are in any potential adverse environmental impact.

Song of the Lion can be read as a stand-alone book, but for readers who enjoy first-rate Navajo mysteries, they will want to read the first book in the series, Spider Woman’s Daughter and the second book in the series, Rock with Wings. Also, readers who are interested in learning more backstory about Bernie, Chee, and Leaphorn will find that reading the first two books in the series is valuable for filling in details.

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