The Sinister Pig by Tony Hillerman

In The Sinister Pig, Tony Hillerman’s 16th book featuring Joe Leaphorn and/or Jim Chee, we have yet another winner. Hillerman has over 18.5 million books in print, has won both the Edgar and Grandmaster awards from the Mystery Writers of America, and the Navajo Tribe’s Special Friend award.

Usually, the titles of Hillerman’s work tie in with Navajo lore. The term Sinister Pig comes from a French phrase “cochon sinistre”. It refers to the biggest, meanest pig in the lot (if you don’t know what a pig lot is, then you “obviously ain’t from around here”) who eats everything he can possibly hold and then refuses to let any of the other pigs have anything to eat. After reading the novel, it is obvious why Hillerman chose such an apt phrase for his title.

The “sinister pig” of this novel is a Washington power broker named Rawley Winsor. Winsor’s character: “… many-generations blue blood, echelons of high society, Princeton, then Harvard Law, famous Capitol deal doer, fundraisers, top-level runner of lobby campaigns, and might make the top of Fortune‘s most-wealthy list if his investments weren’t so carefully hidden.” We learn in the novel’s opening pages that Winsor’s unsavory character is replete with tons of money, huge amounts of power, and a craving for more and is truly deserving of the title “Sinister Pig”. If the way things work in Washington are truly as Mr. Hillerman describes them, the book, although fiction, will surely make many readers want to just vote out the whole group of politicians and bureaucrats and start over.

As is usual writing style, Hillerman provides a tightly plotted suspense novel revolving around the most seemingly insignificant of clues — just some photos of a “Mexican truck, a windmill construction site, exotic animals on a game ranch…” The photos were taken by Border Patrol officer Bernadette Manuelito, who previously worked (in earlier stories) with Jim Chee in the Navajo Tribal Police and is still romantically entangled with him, although neither of them will admit it outright. Their relationship provides several entertaining moments in some of Hillerman’s past books.

Photos of Manuelito, taken by her boss, end up in the hands of Mexican drug lords. Somehow, Winsor becomes involved and the plot thickens. What do the photos represent? Why are so many people outraged about them? What is Winsor’s involvement in all of this? Doesn’t he have enough to do in Washington?

All of this brings the Legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn into the fray. Leaphorn, before retiring, was Jim Chee’s boss in the Navajo Tribal Police (and a mentor as well). Although retired, Leaphorn remains better connected to law enforcement and other government agencies than any lawman in the area. Chee turns to Leaphorn for help when he has a problem he can’t solve. As Hillerman has brought out in several of his previous novels, one of Lt. Leaphorn’s peccadilloes is his propensity to map everything, and this plays out again in The Sinister Pig to comic effect. Yet, Lt. Leaphorn and his maps do have a bearing on the final solution of the case.

Overall, this book is an entertaining one. It’s suspenseful and enjoyable. Undoubtedly, it will please Hillerman’s many fans. Missing, however, in this volume are Hillerman’s descriptions of the breathtaking beauty of the Navajo Tribal land in which his stories take place. Readers should also note that Hillerman doesn’t dwell very much on Navajo mythology or religion, two themes which have figured so highly in many of his past works and really add a differentiating factor to his books.

At his best, Mr. Hillerman makes you want to pack up your house, move to the Navajo Tribal land and spend the rest of your days away from the hustle and bustle of 21st century life. Thank you, sir, for another respite from the everyday.