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.


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