Navajo Autumn—A Navajo Nation Mystery by R. Allen Chappell

The Navajo Nation Mystery Series mixes murder with large doses of anthropology, archaeology and the survivalist lifestyle. Fans of Tony and Anne Hillerman, and James D. Doss, will welcome these jaunts to the Four Corners region of the American west.  Set in and around the largest Indian reservation in the world, among the most populous and most rapidly growing Indian tribe, the series explores the boundaries of Navajo relations within its many clans, with other tribes and with the Caucasian majority.  Although short on descriptions of desert vistas, the series vibrates with tones of dark humor similar to those found in the works of Carl Hiaasen.

Navajo Autumn, the first book in the series introduces the protagonist, Charlie Yazzie, who returns to “the Res” with a law degree, but finds few outlets for his skills. The Navajo Nation hires him as a special investigator, where he applies his considerable legal acumen rounding up missing sheep and wayward children. That is, until “The Big One” comes along, his “opportunity to make legal services sit up and take notice.” That opportunity takes shape in the person of Thomas Begay, Charlie’s classmate from their years at the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school, and the prime suspect in a murder case with far reaching political and economic implications.  True to form, pig-eyed deputy sheriff Dudd Schott wants a quick arrest and conviction, a sentiment shared by many throughout the Navajo Nation and beyond.

After Begay escapes from Dudd’s custody, Charlie, with unexpected stealth, surprises Thomas at his girlfriend Lucy’s hogan. Charlie the special investigator, decides to moonlight as Begay’s defense attorney.  Thomas regards Charlie as a fallen-away Navajo, a “college boy” who has lost his fluency in the tribal language and is too used to apartment-dwelling to resume the Navajo lifestyle. Of course, Charlie confirms his “dude” status when he cleans his bullets and his .38 Smith and Wesson, stainless steel revolver by washing them in a kitchen sink.

In no time, it seems that the world is against Charlie and Thomas. Thomas loses himself in the vastness of the reservation while Charlie takes perilous but comedic risks on behalf of his client, drawing unwelcome attention from the powerful and merciless.

Charlie reaches out to a select group of allies, including another high school classmate, Sue Hanagarni. She becomes his love interest as she jeopardizes her job to share inside information damaging to the Navajo authorities. Paul T’Sosi, a shepherd, the father of Thomas’ girlfriend and the source of many a wry comment, adds a spiritual dimension as a keeper of the old ways. This character offers a glimpse of the Navajo religion and culture, as he assists Charlie and his friends.

Navajo Autumn holds the reader’s interest with humor, engaging characters and quickly moving action. It lays the foundation to a series of unique novels that explain Navajo history, culture, spirituality and their sometimes rugged lifestyle. This is a case where the cowboys are the Indians, and much more.

The Joy of Pickling (Second Edition), by Linda Ziedrich

The Joy of Pickling (Second Edition), by Linda Ziedrich

The vegetable gardener’s planning must include not only the what, when and where to plant, but must account for the storage of surplus produce when neighbors run from armfuls of over production. Cookbooks and the instructions on the packages of pickling salts are adequate for more conventional produce, but a paperback like theJoy of Pickling opens a vast array of alternatives, including the preservation of uncommon vegetables and fruits, and unusual methods of putting them up.

Based on extensive research and reader feedback, the author provides an authoritative primer on the art of pickling (the controlled decomposition of vegetables), including critiques of the several preserving processes, the role of each of the essential ingredients, tips on food safety, and 250 flavor-packed recipes.

Ziedrich encourages the adventure of pickling. Although she thoroughly drills the reader in the avoidance of contamination and spoilage, she lays out clear directions and assures the adventurous gardener of the ease and joy of the pickling process and its bounty.

She not only lists and explains the common and unusual pickling ingredients, but she suggests where and how to obtain them in sufficient quantities and at a reasonable prices.

The proof of the value of this book comes in the outcome of its use. To date, I’ve only read it. Ziedrich’s description of canning methods for cucumbers fits well with my own experience. What interests me and what would deserve a follow-up review is her description of fermented pickles. These resemble the delicious offerings found in barrels at the old-fashioned groceries and delis. Rather than using heat, vinegar and salt as anti-microbial preservatives, fermentation recruits live microorganisms in brine to cure cucumbers. Although sterilization and refrigeration may follow fermentation, it is possible to enjoy half-sours, dill pickles, and other crock-pickles for many weeks beyond the completion of fermentation.

The author carefully describes the materials and methods for pickle fermentation, including shortcuts and economic variations. Food-safe plastic buckets may substitute for crocks and stainless steel containers. Unlike the use of canning jars, the fermentation process requires daily attention, mostly the skimming of yeast from the surface of the salty liquid. The fermentation fluid has its fans. Some drink it, bathe with it or use it as a soup stock.

Other recipes of particular interest to me during the 2016 growing season include fermented chili garlic relish, pickled whole hot peppers, pickled roasted peppers and pickled asparagus. How about you? Do you have a favorite pickle, an unusual pickling trick or a pickling recipe to share?

I first noticed The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich in the Shumway Seed Catalogue, but purchased the expanded second edition from Amazon.