Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito return for a mystery on the banks of Lake Powell - Albuquerque Journal

Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito return for a mystery on the banks of Lake Powell

“The Sacred Bridge” by Anne Hillerman

The tension ratchets up early and remains high throughout Anne Hillerman’s well-crafted new mystery “The Sacred Bridge.”

In the first chapter an unnamed young Navajo man uneasily recalls that as a boy his brother saved him from drowning in Lake Powell, which straddles Arizona and Utah. He is now walking gingerly along the slick sandstone edge of the same lake, heading back to his campsite and to a boat dock.

Suddenly, behind him, he hears “a whooshing noise, then a heavy thunk against the back of his head.” He falls forward into lake and doesn’t make it back to his tent.

Navajo police Sgt. Jim Chee finds the body of the young man, later identified as Curtis Walker, floating in the water. His death is initially thought to be a drowning.

A long way from his station in Shiprock, Chee is on break at Lake Powell when he’s enlisted to help in the investigation of Curtis’ death, reclassified as a murder.

Chee is busy. He’s reconsidering his future in law enforcement. He’s searching for a cave that may be home to ancient sand paintings. His friend and mentor, the legendary Lt. Joe Leaphorn, tipped him off to the existence of the possible art trove Leaphorn had discovered decades ago.

Chee is seeking to pay homage to Rainbow Bridge, a national monument that’s a famous rock formation at the lake. The bridge is sacred to Navajos.

Anne Hillerman

Hillerman shows Chee seeing a faded sign for the bridge, then the bridge itself: “He breathed in its majesty as he approached. … He admired the height of the graceful arch – roughly as tall as the Statue of Liberty. … He paused in gratitude, sang his prayer and blessed the spot and the day with sacred cornmeal.”

Hillerman said in a phone interview she loves writing about that area’s beautiful landscape, not just Lake Powell, Rainbow Bridge and Glen Canyon, and telling a bit of the history of the enormous lake, the damming of it.

Throughout the novel, Hillerman smoothly transitions from narrative to brief, vivid landscape descriptions and back. Here’s an example of one such description while Chee is interviewing a woman about Curtis. “… They looked out at the lake, shimmering navy-blue water in the distance against a panorama of tan and red desert cliffs, with the endless sky arching over it all.”

Hillerman introduces a handful of characters who may have had reason to dispatch Curtis. One is Robert Azul, the owner of an area tour company where Curtis works with Robert’s wife, Ramona. She and Curtis may have been more than coworkers and good friends, and their close relationship may have fed Robert to seek revenge.

Another potential suspect is Paul Hendrix, the adult son of veteran, respected archaeologist Pete Hendrix, who for years treated Curtis as an adopted son. Pete and Curtis’ enduring friendship may have bred anger in Paul.

A third person of interest is Brian Chinchili. He slashed the tires on Curtis’ vehicle and may have been jealous of Curtis’ acquaintanceship with a young woman named Wanda whom Chinchili considers his girlfriend.

A second, though equally taut, storyline in the novel involves Navajo policewoman Bernadette Manuelito, Chee’s wife.

Manuelito witnesses the fatal hit-and-run of an Asian man. His death may be tied to a hemp farm on the Navajo Nation. In what is probably her most dangerous assignment in the series, Manuelito goes undercover to see if the farm is an illicit marijuana growing operation run by criminals. That triggers a chase scene – one of the most thrilling Hillerman has ever written – in which Manuelito tries to escape the farm and save her Mama from harm.

Hillerman first thought of Rainbow Bridge as the sacred arch for the title, though other “bridges” occurred to her. “There’s the bridge of stories that families share. And the bridge when (Manuelito’s sister) Darleen goes back to her family” and the bridge when Manuelito comes back after being undercover,” she said.

“The Sacred Bridge” is the seventh novel in Hillerman’s popular Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series. The author promised that the sage Leaphorn, whose presence is diminished here, will always have some sort of mentorship role to Chee and Manuelito.

Working on the novel in forced concentration during the pandemic helped the author refine her writing and her thinking. “I’m grateful for that,” she said.

Home » Entertainment » Arts » Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito return for a mystery on the banks of Lake Powell

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
Smashing Pumpkins to play Isleta Amphitheater on Aug. 13
ABQnews Seeker
'Today' is the greatest day. The ... 'Today' is the greatest day. The Smashing Pumpkins announced its 26-date tour and there will be a stop at Isleta Amphitheater on Aug. 13. ...
‘The Misfits’ a collection of 15 short stories and ...
ABQnews Seeker
The first story, “Walk the Ice,” ... The first story, “Walk the Ice,” reveals the book’s narrator as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. After five years, he’s suffering from a disconnection ...
MasterWorks of New Mexico show hits 25 years of ...
ABQnews Seeker
The annual show runs through April ... The annual show runs through April 16, at Expo New Mexico's Hispanic Arts Gallery, 300 San Pedro Dr. NE.
There are several resources for finding the best tree ...
ABQnews Seeker
In "Down to Earth: A Gardener's ... In "Down to Earth: A Gardener's Guide to the Albuquerque Area" written by the Albuquerque Area Extension Master Gardeners, there is a very informative ...
The Gallery ABQ presents its April salon show "Perspectives" ...
Meyer Gallery, 225 Canyon Road, Santa ... Meyer Gallery, 225 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, is showing "Ken Daggett: Evolutions of the Day" from May 12-25.
New Mexico Gay Men's Chorus takes on the legacy ...
ABQnews Seeker
'The Show Must Go On' will ... 'The Show Must Go On' will open on Friday, March 31, at Santa Fe's Lensic Performing Arts Center, and on Saturday, April 1, and ...
Ragamala Dance Company to perform 'Sacred Earth' at the ...
ABQnews Seeker
The Ragamala Dance Company will perform ... The Ragamala Dance Company will perform "Sacred Earth" at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 2, in the Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco ...
New Mexico Museum of Art has new curatorial leader
ABQnews Seeker
The New Mexico Museum of Art ... The New Mexico Museum of Art has named Christian Waguespack as its new head of curatorial affairs.
Chatter to premiere new pieces
ABQnews Seeker
Composer Christopher Cerrone's work was co-commissioned ... Composer Christopher Cerrone's work was co-commissioned by four ensembles.