By Gerald Hausman
Santa Fe, NM, USA

They say there are basically two kinds of mystery stories – one, a stranger comes to town and two, a person visits a strange land. Of course, there are endless variations of the same paradigm. 
Gerald Hausman 

The truth is, mysteries depend on what we don’t know and are hard-pressed to find out. How well the writer handles this is the difference between a successful mystery novel and an unsuccessful one.

Anne Hillerman in Cave Of Bones takes a stranger – a reader – to a strange land. And what a land it is! As anyone knows who has been to the four million acres of the vast Colorado Plateau. There is, in this labyrinth of openness, “an abundance of places to get lost in,” as the author states.

This clever novel begins by drawing the reader deeper into the lostness of a land that has caves inhabited by chindis, “the restless spirits of the dead.”

However it’s not ghosts that haunt this novel; it’s the overactive spirits of the living. If there is anything residual in the landscape of Navajo country, it is something else that informs and shapes those who live there. Call it perhaps spirit of place.

Anne Hillerman’s gift as a novelist is to inhabit her novels with deities of DinĂ©:

“Bones made her think of Spider Woman. She remembered the old story of how Spider Woman came for disobedient children, took them up onto the monolith known as Spider Rock and devoured them in her nest at the top where their bones formed a white ring in the sandstone.”

The Navajo gods are never vague presences. They are the blood, marrow and bone of the earth itself, not to mention the sky, waters and winds. “The Hero Twins born to Changing Woman made the world safe for people.”

But these same symbols of good luck also have grievance and mischief in them. Changing Woman, Mother Earth, had sex with two men, according to the ancient myth.

Nothing in Navajo mythology is linear or black and white. Everything is a weave of color. A loom of threads that connect only when one has spent a life studying the weaving and seeing that it is framed by the loom of life itself.

It is impossible to come away from a novel by Anne Hillerman without some understanding of how humanity fits into the spectral panorama of the gods, demons, and humans. They share the same truth; but they do not define it. The beauty of Cave Of Bones is that, in addition to being a classic mystery novel, it is also a guidebook into a precise, harmonic perception of human values. Where, and why, do we go wrong as humans? The novel answers this in the same way the old cowboy saying does – “There is no road so straight that there isn’t a crook up ahead somewhere.”

Cave Of Bones takes the reader up that road of crooks and crannies. To say, metaphorically, that the reader may become lost along the way is not a criticism. “To be lost” in a mystery novel is the very thing that brings us to the book in the first place. We voluntarily wish to be lost; and then again, found.

And so we are in this wonderful, realistic, multi-faceted, novel.

(Gerald Hausman photo credit: Mariah Fox)



Gerald Hausman is the author of Not Since Mark Twain - Stories and a regular contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.