A would-be paralegal and her attorney boss take the case of a woman accused of murdering her unpopular husband in this novel.
In the mid-1980s, Sage Landing, Arizona, is a tiny town hard by a Navajo reservation, the kind of place where everyone knows everybody else’s business. Thirty-something Navajo narrator Naomi Manymules is a divorced mother of two with “only half of a paralegal certificate,” the just-hired office assistant to attorney Grant Carson, a newcomer from Phoenix in his late 40s. Walking around late one night, Naomi unexpectedly becomes a witness to murder when she hears gunshots from the lake below. The next day, Willard Highsmith is found shot to death. Since he was “a crooked son of a bitch with lots of enemies,” possible suspects are many, beginning with his Navajo wife (and Naomi’s friend), Ellen, whom Willard mistreated. Naomi is sure that Ellen is innocent; her alibi makes sense—she drove the long way home after a coyote crossed her path to the east, a Navajo omen not to be ignored. When Ellen is arrested, Carson agrees to represent her. He and Naomi sift through clues, suspects, and complications, including an ever growing potential conflict-of-interest problem with other clients; out-of-town thugs; and personal attacks. Can Ellen’s coyote alibi hold up? Though set in a landscape similar to Tony Hillerman’s mysteries, this series opener by the husband and wife team of J. Burges and D. Burges (Graves Gate, 2003) takes a lighthearted approach while still honoring Navajo culture. That ethos is integral to the plot in large and small ways, whether Ellen’s alibi or how to conduct oneself during a job interview (“The correct white protocol was to ask directly for what you wanted”). The story’s local flavor is also seen in characters like Abraham Bingham and his multiple wives: “Pligs—short for polygamists—are just another minority around here.” Naomi’s voice is amusing and sharp, as when she dubs a shady character’s canine a “dog moll.” The authors do a fine job of keeping readers guessing until the very end.
An enjoyably twisty mystery with appealing characters and a vivid setting.