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The Sinister Pig    by Tony Hillerman order for
Sinister Pig
by Tony Hillerman
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Back in the 1970's, when Tony Hillerman started to write, he was told by an agent that his mystery was fine but that readers would not be interested in all the Navajo lore. Fortunately he ignored that advice and has now entertained us for over twenty years with mysteries about Navajo Tribal Police officers Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. In The Sinister Pig, the 'legendary' (now retired) Lieutenant Leaphorn is still working with his former colleague, Sergeant Jim Chee. In the last few books, Hillerman has also added young officer Bernie Manuelito, now transferred from the tribal police to the Customs border patrol, mainly to distance her from Chee and their confusing relationship.

Hillerman fools the reader, at least this reviewer, by an initial focus on a retired CIA expert on oil and gas pipelines, sent to the Southwest Four Corners to investigate possible mishandling of gas pipeline revenues owed to the Navajos. The expert is soon murdered and Chee investigates. In the meantime, Bernie is two hundred miles south, learning to be a Customs Patrol officer. Soon after she takes some photos of a mysterious ranch, she is hauled into her boss's office and informed of a 'special hands-off' relationship. Her photo is then circulated among border drug smugglers and her life is in jeopardy. Although retired, Leaphorn still keeps his finger on all that is happening, and soon pulls connections together between the murder and the ranch.

Sinister Pig is not Hillerman's best and could be classified as Hillerman lite, with its rather short length and a simpler plot than many of his earlier books. However, unlike other mystery grandmasters, (think Dick Francis), he still writes an entertaining, well-worth reading, mystery. One of the most interesting aspects is the double meaning of the title. It refers to the greedy top pig at the trough who insists on taking all the food. A pig is also a pipeline cleaning device, normally used to flush out the remains of a liquid transported by pipeline before a different one is pumped through. Hillerman ingeniously utilizes it quite differently in this book. He also amusingly shows his scorn for government bureaucracy, especially the new Homeland Security department, as numerous different government agencies all jockey for control of the investigation.

Long time fans will enjoy The Sinister Pig and hope, that like his ageing protagonist Joe Leaphorn, Tony Hillerman will still continue to be active in the mystery field.

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