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COYOTE WAITS by Tony Hillerman (Harper: $5.99).

February 16, 1992|Charles Solomon

One of Hillerman's most ingenious mysteries, "Coyote Waits," reunites the author's two popular Navaho detectives, Jim Chee and Tony Leaphorn. The clash between their styles of detection and their approaches to the modern world forms an intriguing subplot: Although he remains keenly aware of his ancestral culture, Leaphorn lives almost exclusively in the biligaana (white man's) world of 20th-Century America; Chee feels stronger ties to the old ways, and dreams of becoming a tribal shaman someday. The two men become reluctant but respectful allies in a complex case involving the defacement of an old volcanic site (traditionally believed to be a meeting ground for witches), the dark side of academic life and the lost loot from Butch Cassidy's last heist. Lurking in the background is the elusive figure of Coyote, the mythological embodiment of bad fortune, whom Chee invokes in the Navaho proverb, "Coyote is always out there waiting, and Coyote is always hungry." Hillerman's justly celebrated love of the Southwest and its people raises his novel far above the standard genre mystery.

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