“The Way of the Bear” is Anne Hillerman’s eighth novel featuring Bernie Manuelito and Jim Chee of the Navajo Nation Police Department. Joe Leaphorn continues to be included in the series, but with limited action. These characters were introduced by Anne’s father, Tony Hillerman, starting with 1970s “The Blessing Way” “The Way of the Bear” is the 25th novel featuring these beloved characters.
It is December, and Bernie is trying to come to terms with several recent blows to her life. One is the fact that she was passed over for detective, so she is wondering what to do in her professional life. She is also worried about her mother’s obvious and worsening memory issues. Another loss is something she can’t even think about, let alone talk to anyone about it. Her husband, newly promoted Lieutenant Chee, has convinced her to join him on a combination business/pleasure trip to Bluff, Utah, because he senses that Bernie needs a diversion.
WHAT: Author event and book-signing for “The Way of the Bear” with Anne Hillerman.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday.
WHERE: Maria’s Bookshop, 960 Main Ave.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit https://bit.ly/3L4VwEI.
As part of his new position, Chee is supposed to meet with a potential donor to the Navajo Nation Fallen Officer Memorial Fund. Dr. Chap Dulles is a well-respected and expert paleontologist, a real fossil hound, who wants to express his gratitude after a Navajo policeman saved his sister’s life. Chee is also supposed to represent the department in a local ceremony. On a personal note, Chee is meeting with medicine man Holsteen Grayhair to see if he will agree to take Chee as an apprentice.
At the suggestion of the medicine man, Bernie goes by herself to take in the sunset at nearby Valley of the Gods. This remote and sacred place is part of the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument. The million-plus acre monument is in Southeast Utah adjacent to the Navajo Nation and is the first of its kind. What makes it unique is the fact that the Zuni, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Hopi and Diné tribes form a tribal commission that works with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to manage it. The monument is a sacred place for the tribes, and the setting holds over 100,000 Native cultural and archaeological sites. It is also rich with fossils deposited over the millennia.
Absorbed by her surroundings, Bernie loses track of time and darkness falls. Her calm is shattered when a truck tries to run her down and then someone fires at her. Shaken and with no cell service, she is finally able to return to Chee in Bluff, but not until after pulling over a car driving erratically to help deliver a baby. The next day brings more distressing events. A pending winter storm cancels the ceremony for Chee, a paleontologist is found dead, apparently frozen to death by the side of the road, and Dulles is missing and a dead man is found in his driveway.
As the massive storm hits the area, Bernie and Chee are drawn into a mystery that keeps expanding. While the motive for the killings is elusive, and the suspect pool remains large. Working together, they try to find answers to an apparent looting of grave sites and vandalism to ancient, revered petroglyphs. The two BLM rangers, the sheriff department and Bernie and Chee all become targets of violence in the midst of a raging snowstorm, which makes the fight for survival more perilous.
Hillerman has done impeccable research at Bears Ears Monument and her rich descriptions of the history, cultural and physical character of the area shine throughout the novel. Her portrayal of the Diné culture is knowledgeable and respectful. Her characters Chee and Bernie are facing challenges and changes together, which reflect real life.
“The Way of the Bear” is a welcome addition to the continuing story of the Diné people and especially Chee and Bernie.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher and freelance writer.