Though you might expect them to have their hands full with rumors of war, Washington powerbrokers seem obsessed these days with whatever’s happening in the big-sky New Mexico territory Hillerman’s long since branded as his own (The Wailing Wind, 2002, etc.). Soon after one D.C. insider equips an ex-CIA agent with identification in the name of Carl Mankin and sends him out west to investigate rumors that somebody’s using a gas pipeline to help avoid payment on part of the staggering $40 billion in royalties the Tribal Trust Fund claims it’s never received from the federal government, a second insider sends somebody else out to gun down the investigator, pocket his shiny new identification, and bury him in a shallow grave. Sgt. Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police, looking on as the FBI snatches the case away from him, is lucky to find out the dead man’s real name. And retired legend Lt. Joe Leaphorn, when Chee hikes out to Window Rock to consult him, does little more than brandish a sheaf of maps showing the locations of gas pipelines from Mexico. It’s Chee’s former officer and lost love Bernadette Manuelito, fleeing the NTP for the Customs Patrol, who comes up with the crucial break on the case quite by accident when she follows a truck into a ranch that’s raising oryxes for self-styled safari hunters and takes one photograph too many.
Hillerman Lite, with little mystery about who killed Carl Mankin, or, unless you think Hillerman’s gotten a lot less warmhearted, about what’s going to happen to imperiled Bernie Manuelito.