|Stargazer, published April 13|
Beyond the territory of the reservation, much of Stargazer takes place in the vicinity of the not-fictitious Very Large Array radio-telescope shown on the map above in relation to the reservation. I enjoyed the book's descriptions of the scenery and the local ambience, though I found the plot of the book to be a little thin and not as inventive as some of the earlier ones.
Comfort food as always plays a big role in this series: I always look for food in detective novels. Here, it definitely characterizes the detectives and their friends, as well as suggesting the progress in time of the investigations. Leaphorn definitely likes to eat: in one scene, he warms up some lasagne and inhales "the warm spicy aroma of tomato sauce, meat, cheese, and oregano."
Leaphorn's friend and housemate Louisa makes a salad to go with the lasagna: "... to fresh spinach, she’d added onions, red and green peppers, tomatoes, and something white, crisp, and slightly sweet he hadn’t tried before," which turns out to be jicama. (pp. 155-156). Another time: an old friend of Leaphorn's says he "can make a spaghetti sauce so good you’d think it came from a jar.” (p. 31).
Bernie is a nurturer, both of her husband Jim Chee (who plays a rather small role in solving the mystery at the heart of this novel) and of her mother and sister. At one point, she makes soup to try to get her mother, who has problems with eating, to take some nutrition. Bernie herself is a picky eater. In one scene, at a diner, she takes the lettuce and tomato off of her burger, something we've seen her do in earlier novels. She's doubtful about her colleague's choice of "a casual place that specialized in New Mexican food—red and green chile, posole, flan, sopaipillas, even tender tortillas made with blue corn." The colleague reassures her: “They do great rellenos with fresh green chile this time of year. I think you’ll love their specials, but if not, they have regular American food, too.” (p. 230).
When offered take-out Chinese food, she's really doubtful, and relieved when she finds "small meaty ribs arranged on a pile of fluffy white rice. No odd green things. No mystery sauce." (p. 163). Above all, throughout Stargazer Bernie is trying to reduce her consumption of Coke, which she really loves. A drink of ice water just doesn't do it for her.
These habits of the detectives have appeared often since the original series author Tony Hillerman began writing about policemen Joe Leaphorn in 1970; he subsequently introduced Jim Chee and then Bernie, his younger colleagues. Since Hillerman's death in 2008, his daughter Anne Hillerman has added several novels to the series. I've enjoyed them all, though I admit some of the earlier ones are better.
The Navajo detectives never seem to get much older, although each novel is set in the present time that it was being written -- descriptions of cars, iPhones, and the like keep up with the times. Leaphorn was around 40 in the first book, so now he must be around 90. His ability to speak English has been impaired by having been shot in the head a few books ago -- leading Hillerman to render his speech in very annoying broken English, which I find mildly offensive. He's still fluent in Navajo, can write good English, and seems mentally very sharp, so he's called as a consultant in on just about every case, including the one in Stargazer.
Bernie Manuelito is aging too: her college roommate who has a major role in Stargazer has a 19-year-old son who was born after their college days. So Bernie must be getting close to 40, despite being viewed as quite young and still deciding when to start a family with Jim Chee. I'm always fascinated by the aging of detectives in long-running series. More examples: Agatha Christie introduced Hercule Poirot in 1920, when he was already retired, and he continued detecting until his last book in 1975. Maybe he was 110 years old? Maybe time stood still? Miss Marple, Christie's elderly spinster detective, first appeared in a story in 1927, and continued to be an aging spinster until 1976. Donna Leon's Venetian detective, Inspector Brunetti, first appeared in 1992, with 24 novels in the series. Brunetti's children were teenagers in the first book. As far as I know they have continued to be teenagers. Time doesn't stand still as technology advances throughout the books. I love them all, and these little things don't bother me, just pique my curiosity.
The champion of long-lived detectives, I think, is Captain Largo of the Hillerman books. In 1970, he was already the boss of the Navajo police station where Leaphorn worked until his retirement (in the book published in 1996). He's still there, the boss of Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito in Stargazer. Largo's possible retirement is a topic of discussion among the policemen in Stargazer. According to one of the other policemen: “He was there when Ship Rock landed and our relatives climbed off and started planning for the first Navajo Fair.” (p. 179).
Blog post © 2021 mae sander.