“The Sacred Bridge” is Anne Hillerman’s seventh book in the Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito series.
In this latest adventure, married law enforcement couple, Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito, are off on separate but exciting endeavors. Of course, this is not what they anticipated when Chee goes off on what is supposed to be a mini vacation from his duties as Bernie is holding down the homefront.
Chee is trying to figure what he really wants to do: stay in law enforcement or continue his studies to be a Diné (Navajo) Haatali (Medicine) Man. In order to deal with this personal struggle, he has left home in Shiprock, New Mexico, and has gone to Lake Powell in Arizona. Hiking and sleeping under the stars are giving him some peace to make some decisions about the future. He is especially keen to visit Rainbow Bridge, which has special meaning to the Diné.
Chee is also looking for a special cave with sacred sand paintings for his old boss and mentor, Joe Leaphorn. Because of the severe drought, the water level of Lake Powell is very low. Chee, Leaphorn and a local archaeologist are curious if some of the ancient treasures that were lost when the dam blocked the Colorado and San Juan rivers forming Lake Powell have been revealed. Unfortunately, Chee’s quest is rudely diverted when he discovers the body of a young man in the lake.
WHAT: Author Anne Hillerman will be in Durango and Farmington.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday (May 4) at Maria’s Bookshop, 960 Main Ave.; 6 p.m. Thursday at Farmington Public Library, 2101 Farmington Ave., Farmington.
Back home, Bernie experiences a traumatic event. Driving down the highway in her personal car, Bernie is flagged down by a wild looking and terrified man who pleads for help. Before Bernie can do anything, the man runs across the road only to be run down by a car. Even more horrifying than seeing the man flying though the air, Bernie watches as the car backs up and runs over the body. The brutality of the images and the awful sounds made are burned into Bernie’s psyche.
Both Chee and Bernie are drawn in to solve these mysteries leading into unrelated parallel investigations. Bernie goes undercover to investigate an industrial hemp farm on the Navajo Nation that does not appear to be as advertised. At the same time, Chee is struggling to make sense of the death of the young man he found floating in Lake Powell.
Hillerman has taken the lives of these two lovebirds and separated them into two separate locations and plunged them into solving two separate mysteries for almost the duration of the entire novel. It works! She also weaves into the story the fascinating and somewhat sad history of the creation of Lake Powell. It was made at the expense and loss of irreplaceable Native American history. Hillerman’s favorite couple’s personal lives are evolving, and the breathtaking landscape only adds to the drama of the action. “The Sacred Bridge” is a welcome addition to the series.
During the Tucson Festival of Books, this writer had a chance to sit down and talk to Anne Hillerman about what led her to continue the well-loved series with the characters her father, Tony, introduced. She also talked about what the future might hold for them.
Q: What compelled you to continue your father's legacy by taking on the characters of Leaphorn and Chee?
A: Basically, the character of Bernadette Manuelito. I loved that character. I hated to see the series die with her being trapped as the sweet girlfriend and rather incompetent police officer, and I thought in this era she should not have that role anymore. So I figured if I only wrote one book, and figured even if no body read it but me and my mom, that just had to do something about Bernie.
Q: When you decided to expand Bernie Manuelito’s role in your books, did you realize the impact it would have on your female fans, especially Native women?
A: I did not. Frankly, I didn’t think I would be writing a series, I thought I’d be writing one book about Bernie. But then my dad’s editor read it and I was offered a three-book contract.
Q: What can you tell fans about your next book?
A: I’m going to use Bears Ears in Utah as a setting. And so far, Jim and Bernie are working together, which is the first time this has ever happened. We’ll see how it develops. I’m excited about it.
Q: Will Joe Leaphorn make a return in the new book? He was totally off screen in Sacred Bridge.
A: I’m not sure how he’s going to play into this book. I think that he’s had a good long run. He’s been a cop for 50 years. We’ll see.
Q: Will Chee and Bernie take time out between solving mysteries to start a family?
A: I don’t know. I’m still debating about that. It would be such a big change. It would be such a huge complication. But it would be interesting.
Q: Have you considered breaking off from this series to do another series or maybe a standalone?
A: I have been thinking that maybe I’ll move these characters off the reservation. It would give them a bigger world. It would be interesting to see Bernie juxtaposed against more standard law enforcement both as a woman and as a Native. I haven’t decided.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.