is a 1986 detective novel by American author Tony Hillerman. The seventh book in his loosely connected crime series, it follows recurring characters Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, who tag team to solve crimes for the Navajo Tribal Police. Leaphorn’s mainstream detective style and skepticism about Native American mysticism complement the open-mindedness of his younger colleague, officer Chee. In the novel, the two set out to solve a string of murders that have happened across the reservation. Though they fail to connect the dots or find a suspect, when someone tries to murder Chee, they realize their investigation might have turned up some clues. The book won several awards in the novel genre, including the Anthony and Spur Awards, establishing Hillerman as a master crime fiction writer of the 1980s.
The novel begins as Jim Chee wakes up in his mobile home to an odd sound in the middle of the night. Just as he leaves bed, a shotgun blast pierces the trailer’s wall just over his bed. The next morning, Chee discovers a vehicle with an oil leak and a set of small footprints. He contacts Lt. Joe Leaphorn, who adds the attempted murder to an already-long list of homicides in the area. Leaphorn nominates Chee to work with him full-time on three homicides he believes to be connected: those of Irma Onesalt, Wilson Sam, and Dugai Endocheeney. His boss, Captain Largo, accepts his request.
At the beginning of their investigation, Leaphorn and Chee find that Irma Onesalt’s office requested information about several individuals’ death dates from Endocheeney. Chee finds a bead made of bone in his trailer and discovers that similar beads were left behind in Endoheeney’s stab wounds. Leaphorn and Chee attempt to question an old suspect, Bistie, after another bead was discovered in his wallet during a different interrogation. When they reach his house, they find no one home and evidence of a skirmish. They search the surrounding area, and Leaphorn is shot in the arm from out of sight. Chee finds Bistie’s dead body at the spot where Leaphorn’s shooter likely stood.
Chee notices a signature mark above Bistie’s bullet wound: it is identical to those “discovered” in medical rituals by Native crystal gazers, who believe they are the signs of evil spirits called skinwalkers from human bodies. Chee locates Bistie’s daughter, who suggests that Bistie was trying to kill a skinwalker in a spiritual ritual to thwart a terminal diagnosis of liver cancer. A public defender, Janet Pete, claims that Curtis Atcitty manipulated her to secure Bistie’s release in order to kill him. The detectives find that Onesalt also died shortly after contacting Pete.
Chee goes to meet Alice Yazzie to set up a Blessing Way ceremony. Leaphorn infers, just in time, that the meeting, taking place in an abandoned home, is a setup to kill Chee. He rushes to save Chee in Dinebito Wash; meanwhile, Chee, realizing that he is in danger, tries to escape the house. A woman appears and shoots him in the back with a shotgun, claiming that he is a skinwalker who gave her baby the mark of death. She claims that Dr. Yellowhorse told her his identity. Leaphorn arrives and rushes the critically wounded Chee to Badwater Clinic. Just before he is put under, Chee mutters enough information to tip off Leaphorn.
Leaphorn realizes that the fanatical Dr. Yellowhorse will try to kill Chee because he knows he killed Irma Onesalt. Yellowhorse makes it to Badwater Clinic before Leaphorn can make it back; he acknowledges his crimes to Chee before he tries to kill him. Just as Leaphorn returns, the mother who shot Chee bursts into the clinic and kills Yellowhorse with her shotgun. In the case’s aftermath, the two detectives confirm that Yellowhorse had been exploiting the Native belief in skinwalkers to monetize an unending chain of murders, diagnosing fake illnesses before the deaths to justify medical bills and health insurance claims. At the end of the novel, the detectives begin to map out Yellowhorse’s crimes to see if he hired any other murderers.