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Reading Diary for 2016

  and earlier
"The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes"
by George Mann
The Casebook of Newbury and HobbesOne of the finest steampunk authors on the scene has given readers a nice collection of short stories revolving around his two Victorian Age detectives, Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes. Filling in some episodes only referred to in the full-length novels, this collection pulls together short stories written for various magazines, compilations, etc. For those waiting impatiently for the 2018 release of "The Revenant Express," this is a nice way to visit with our old friends while awaiting their return.

"Night Walker"
by Jean Hager
Night WalkerChief Mitch Bushyhead has a problem: Too many suspects. When the owner of a local resort lodge is found dead, it turns out everyone who knew him thought he had it coming.

"The Grandfather Medicine"
by Jean Hager
The Grandfather MedicineThe marketing blurbs on the cover compare this first entry in the Mitch Bushyhead series to Tony Hillerman's Navajo mysteries. There's even a blurb from Hillerman himself. But while author Jean Hager draws on Cherokee culture and customs in this book (protagonist Mitch Bushyhead, chief of police in a small east Oklahoma town, is half-Cherokee), this is no Joe Leaphorn / Jim Chee mystery. It's a fun read, a decent whodunit, but the narrative is often a bit clunky, the dialogue wooden, the transitions about as smooth as a rural rail crossing. It's a fun read (a local Native artist is found dead – with two fingers cut off and missing), and I'm diving into the full five volumes of the Bushyhead series, but you'll enjoy it more if you don't get your hopes up too high.

"The Remake: As Time Goes By"
by Stephen Humphrey Bogart
The Remake: As Time Goes ByHard-edged New York private eye R.J. Brooks finds himself in deep trouble after the Hollywood lawyer he threatens – in an attempt to stop a studio from remaking his parents' greatest film – turns up dead. Soon it's clear that a serial killer is thinning the production crew from the film, and after Brooks clears his name he sets out to protect the producer from becoming the final victim. Brooks is a tremendous character, and Bogart has created a solid cast of supporting characters as well. Snappy dialogue, hook after hook, a satisfying conclusion – it is a shame that Bogart did not continue this series beyond this second entry.

"Play It Again"
by Stephen Humphrey Bogart
Play It AgainAdd R.J. Brooks to the roster of classic literary private eyes. Tough-guy son of one of Hollywood's golden couples, Brooks hides from his family fame while making a living documenting unfaithful spouses for their suspecting husbands and wives. It's an ugly living – but not as ugly as the murder of his mother, a fading Tinseltown icon. With NYPD bungling the case, Brooks has to put aside his own conflicted emotions about his ruptured relationship with his mother and at least find out who the killer was. Smartly written, with numerous inside references to the author's own famous family, it's a fun, rewarding read and a worthy mystery in its own right.

"Half-Moon Investigations"
by Eoin Colfer
Half-Moon InvestigationsA stand-alone juvenile mystery from the author of the Artemis Fowl series, this is a well-crafted whodunit with finely carved characters and a taut sense of suspense. A 12-year-old Irish boy in a small village on the southeastern coast of Ireland solves small crimes at school for his classmates' lunch money. He invests that money in an online private detective course that yields him a badge. But when a real case comes along – the kind where adults are willing to beat up a young detective to protect their secrets – Fletcher Moon has to decide if he really wants to be a detective or not. Written in 2006, it is apparent this won't be a series – and that's too bad, for many of the characters, from the criminal Sharkey family to the local beat cop, Murt, would beat repeated visits.

"Harry Potter and the Cursed Child"
by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildHarry, Hermione and Ron are not only all grown up in the new entry in the Harry Potter series, but their own children are now attending Hogwarts – the special academy for those with magical ability. But Harry's second son, Albus, finds it difficult to fit in or find his place even within the family. Written as a play rather than a novel (and thus needing to be wrapped up within a roughly two-hour window on stage), the pacing often feels rushed. The slow unfolding that marked Rowling's novels just doesn't exist here. Still, the story is true to the universe and characters, and it's fun to catch up with some old friends again.

"The Silence of Stones"
by Jeri Westerson
The Silence of StonesWhen author Jeri Westerson found out her Crispin Guest medieval noir series had been dropped by her publisher after seven entries, the easiest thing would have been to pitch a new series. Fortunately for fans of Westerson's masterfully woven tale of a disgraced former knight now earning a meager living by solving crimes in the shadows of King Richard's reign, Westerson forged on and self-published the next entry. "The Silence of the Stones" picks up where "Shadow of the Alchemist" left us: Storms are brewing around Richard's court, and even though he's disgraced (although he does have the right to carry a sword again), Crispin helps where he can. But when the Stone of Destiny – symbolizing Richard's domain over Scotland – is stolen from his throne room, Richard seizes Crispin's apprentice, Jack Tucker, and threatens to execute him if Crispin doesn't locate the stone.

"Rock With Wings"
by Anne Hillerman
Rock With WingsWhen Navajo Police officer Bernie Manuelito pulls over a car on the eastern reservation, the driver is unusually nervous. But a search of his vehicle only turns up two boxes of dirt. Meanwhile, her husband, Officer Jim Chee, is assigned to provide security at a film location in Monument Valley – where an unmarked grave violates tribal law. As they work to unravel these two seemingly unrelated cases, both will lean on the knowlege and expertise of the still-recovering Lt. Joe Leaphorn. Another fine entry in the Leaphorn-Chee series begun by Anne Hillerman's father, Tony.

"Spider Woman's Daughter"
by Anne Hillerman
Spider Woman's DaughterPicking up where her father, Tony Hillerman, left off, Anne Hillerman's debut novel finds Navajo Police officers Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito newly married, while retired lieutenant Joe Leaphorn continues to offer assistance to his former colleagues as requested. Following a regular breakfast gathering in Window Rock, Leaphorn is gunned down in the parking lot in front of Manuelito. As Leaphorn clings to life in the hospital, his friends try to figure out who would want him dead – a long list given all the criminals he arrested over the years. Anne Hillerman's style is more detailed than her father's; the book is noticeably longer. But the dialogue is consistent, the locations remain true to life, and the story is classic Hillerman. A real blessing for fans of her father's work.

"The Shape Shifter"
by Tony Hillerman
The Shape ShifterTony Hillerman's last entry in his wondrous Joe Leaphorn - Jim Chee series of mysteries (although his daughter Anne is carrying on the legacy and stories). And it's Hillerman at his best: While Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito honeymoon in Hawaii, Leaphorn finds himself revisiting an old case – one involving a very specific rug from Navajo history, an unsolved sap burglary, insurance fraud and a faked death (plus a very real one).

"Skeleton Man"
by Tony Hilerman
Skeleton ManWhen a rare diamond is pawned off by a Hopi, questions about a plane crash a half-century ago come back to light. An unresolved battle over a family's inheritance, and a man's reputation, is reignated as various forces descend on Navajo land in a search for the diamonds thought lost in the crash, and Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito struggle to figure out who is telling the truth – and who is committing murder.

"The Sinister Pig"
by Tony Hillerman
The Sinister PigA mysterious man turns up mysteriously dead on the edge of the Navajo reservation – and very high-powered folks from Washington, D.C., immediately try to divert the investigation by the tribal police. Former tribal officer Bernadette Manuelito – now working along the Mexican border as she tries to put her feelings for Jim Chee aside – inadvertently stumbles into the wide web of intrigue when she comes across strange activity on a remote ranch. With retired Lt. Joe Leaphorn assisting, Chee and Manuelito start following the tendrils into very dangerous territory.

"The Wailing Wind"
by Tony Hillerman
The Wailing WindA con gone bad, a lost gold mine, a missing wife – and rumors of witches on a nearby Army base set in motion the latest collaboration between Navajo cops Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito, and retired detective Joe Leaphorn. The story, as with all Hillerman tales, unfolds organically, naturally, and delivers another great ending.

"Hunting Badger"
by Tony Hillerman
Hunting BadgerA botched robbery of the casino at the adjoining Ute Nation leaves one security guard dead, the other wounded – and lead suspect in the eyes of the FBI. Officer Bernie Manuelito does not believe he did it, however, and implores her former supervisor, Jim Chee, to take a look. Meanwhile, a local landowner claims his plane was stolen by the robbers as part of their getaway into the Navajo Nation, where they remain undiscovered. Retired Navajo cop Joe Leaphorn is given names of purported suspects, but has his own suspicions. As is to be expected, the masterful Hillerman ties up everything in the end.

"The First Eagle"
by Tony Hillerman
The First EagleA dead Navajo policeman, with a Hopi poaching on Navajo lands found standing over him; an outbreak of bubonic plague on the Navajo Nation; a missing medical researcher. All start out baffling retired Navajo detective Joe Leaphorn, now working in private practice, and his former protégé, Sgt. Jim Chee. Hillerman turns in another grand mystery, eventually tying everything together in satisfying manner, yet the story is so wonderfully drawn the reader is never in a hurry for the denouement.

"The Fallen Man"
by Tony Hillerman
The Fallen ManWhite climbers illegally climging the sacred Shiprock find a human skeleton near the top – and soon, a rich family has hired retired Navajo cop Joe Leaphorn to look into things for them. The remains turn out to be those of a local landowner – whose family is employing Leaphorn, hoping to prove he died before turning 30 and thus before he inherited the ranch, so they can take it back from his widow. We also learn of how Leaphorn's beloved Emma died in the hospital.

"Sacred Clowns"
by Tony Hillerman
Sacred ClownsAt a nearby Pueblo village during a religious ceremony where a runaway teen may show up, Officer Jim Chee not-quite-witnesses a murder – a murder that seems awfully similar to the killing of a white schoolteacher at the Catholic school on Navajo lands. Chee struggles with trying to understand enough of the Pueblo culture to find the significance of all he witnessed, while Lt. Joe Leaphorn struggles to clear his name.

"Coyote Waits"
by Tony Hillerman
Coyote WaitsWhen a fellow police officer announces over the dispatch radio that he's making an arrest, Jim Chee decides it's too minor an incident to provide backup. When the radio goes silent, and Chee finally gets there, Officer Delbert Nez is dead. When an elderly Navajo, stinking drunk, confesses, it seems to be an open and shut case. But the elderly suspect is related to the soon-to-retire Lt. Joe Leaphorn's late wife, Emma, and so Leaphorn is pulled in as a family favor, and soon the CIA and a long-lost bandit stash complicate things nearly as much as does the allure of a female Navajo lawyer for Officer Chee.

"Talking God"
by Tony Hillerman
Talking GodA body found by the railroad tracks crossing the Navajo lands is mystery enough, but a part-Navajo Smithsonian researcher on a political crusade soon leads to even more confusion as Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee find themselves crossing paths in Washington, D.C., chasing an assassin, Chileans, and Navajo artifacts.

"A Thief of Time"
by Tony Hillerman
A Thief of TimeElevating his writing to yet another level, Tony Hillerman achieves a pace and rhythm of the best literature in this, his eighth entry in the Joe Leaphorn / Jim Chee mystery series. Switching back and forth from the viewpoints of different characters, again taking his characters (temporarily) to locales far from the Navajo reservation, Hillerman introduces us to the intersection of academic research and illegal digging, with a remarkable ending that is as satisfying as it is unexpected.

by Tony Hillerman
SkinwalkersWho would try to kill a Navajo police officer? Lt. Joe Leaphorn has his doubts about Officer Jim Chee's explanation for the shotgun holes in his trailer, but a series of other, apparently related incidents on the reservation, killings that implicate Navajo witches, force the two men to cooperate to catch the killer before someone else dies.

"The Ghostway"
by Tony Hillerman
The GhostwayOfficer Jim Chee finds that Navajo DNA alone doesn't make a man Navajo – as a man who appears to be Navajo, and who speaks Navajo, nevertheless tips his hand that the ways of the Navajo are foreign to him, leading Chee among Navajo expatriates who have left Dinétah for the world of the white man.

"The Dark Wind"
by Tony Hillerman
The Dark WindSgt. Jim Chee is assigned to a murder case in which the victim's hands and feet have had their palms and soles removed. He's also trying to figure out who keeps sabotaging a new windmill on Navajo land that has been turned over to the Hopis. And federal agents have descended on Dinétah and aren't sharing much information with the Navajo Tribal Police.

"People of Darkness"
by Tony Hillerman
People of DarknessWhen Navajo Police officer Jim Chee (in his first appearance) is offered too much money for an off-the-clock job by a rich woman who wants him to track down a box of rocks, his radar goes off. Soon, a professional hitman, a missing corpse, and a man who may or may not be a Navajo further complicate his life. As with all of Hillerman's tales, the Navajo worldview permeates the entire story – allowing the rest of us a glimpse into their lives. Chee is even more traditional than the somewhat secularized Lt. Joe Leaphorn of Hillerman's other books, and it turns out is aspiring to learn the practice of traditional healing.

"Listening Woman"
by Tony Hillerman
LIstening WomanTony Hillerman's third Navajo mystery again finds Detective Joe Leaphorn using his knowledge of his people's beliefs and customs to try to solve crimes that white cops just can't wrap their heads around. Seeing the inconsistencies in Navajo behavior allows Leaphorn to discern motives, to eliminate suspects – to solve crimes, even those committed by outsiders. Few authors have ever so seamlessly woven a foreign culture (to most of his readers) into a taut murder-mystery.

"Dance Hall of the Dead"
by Tony Hillerman
Dance Hall of the DeadTony Hillerman's wonderfully complicated Navajo cop Joe Leaphorn finds himself with jurisdictional and cultural boundaries to sort through when a Navajo boy and a Zuñi boy are both murdered on the eve of a Zuñi festival, and near an archaeological dig promising a new understanding of Native history. A near-perfect mystery in only Hillerman's second outing.

"The Blessing Way"
by Tony Hillerman
The Blessing WayIn re-reading all of Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries, in order, I'm amazed anew at how strong Hillerman game out of the gate. The first title is as good as anything that followed – and that's no knock on what was yet to come. That a non-Navajo was able to immerse the reader so fully not just in a setting on Navajo lands, but to take non-Navajos into the Navajo world, is utterly amazing. Never academic, it is nevertheless wholly authentic in feel, in tone, in pace. It is an utter gem of writing, with Cold War implications, a grand murder mystery at its heart, and a denouement as good as you'll ever read.

"Empire in Green and Gold"
by Charles Morrow Wilson
Empire in Green and GoldA traditional, dry history of the banana trade, from its roots in the 19th century when sailing ships brought the fruit from the Caribbean to a handful of American ports to its expansion into one of the largest internaitonal agricultural enterprises on the planet. Fascinating study of how thin profit margins kept banana companies on the edge of technological developments – including the first refrigerated cargo ships.

"The Seafarers: The East Indiamen"
by Russell Miller
The Seafarers: The East IndiamenOverlapping some of the territory of "The Windjammers," "The East Indiamen" looks at the technological progression of the sailing ships that kept England and the rest of Western Europe in tea, coffee and spices in the 16th-18th centuries. The advent of steam-powered ships didn't end the trade, of course – but it did bring an end to the Age of Sail.

"Making the Corps"
by Thomas E. Ricks
Making the CorpsA admiring look at the Marine Corps' approach to Basic Training (boot camp), written through the eyes of a single platoon experiencing it together. Author Thomas Ricks clearly is impressed by the process in which teenagers are molded into warriors by young men only a decade older.

"Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps"
by Frank Schaeffer and John Schaeffer
Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine CorpsEqual parts boot camp memoir and parent-letting-go story, this dual viewpoint look at a son's journey through Marine Corps bootcamp is a pretty solid look at how recruits and their families back home experience the process. John Schaeffer's remembrance – written in the months after he finished Basic Training – shows how effectively the Corps instills its values in its recruits. His father Frank's side of the memoir is not nearly so focused – clearly reflecting the civilian view of life most of us carry.