Tony Hillerman Book Report
Dance Hall of the Dead
The main character of this book is Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn; he is a Navajo that values the ways of the Navajo life. In the very first chapter we learn about Lieutenant Leaphorn’s case about the murder of Ernesto Cata. Leaphorn tried to determine the death of the twelve year old boy by using the values he learned throughout life from his grandfather. Leaphorn was also well known for his great tracking skills and examining evidence skills. Throughout the book, many detectives were given false information that would attempt to point them in the wrong direction.
The next important character of this book is the twelve year old Zuni boy that was murdered. His name is Ernesto Cata, who was a very important child to the Badger Clan, who all thought he would grow up to be a natural leader in the community. Ernesto was selected by his community for the honor of being the Little Fire God at the Shalako festival. Ernesto was apparently open minded, and the least prejudice person of all the Zuni community.
Next important people are the Bowlegs family. There is the father Shorty Bowlegs, the youngest brother Cecil Bowlegs, and finally the other of the brothers George Bowlegs. According to Leaphorn, Shorty was a major alcoholic. Leaphorn also said he seemed to be a loving father, but his alcohol deterred often deterred most of his great actions. He eventually was killed during sometime in the book.
Cecil Bowlegs according to Leaphorn was a very young but brave Navajo boy that he misinterpreted to being George Bowlegs, Cecil’s brother. Cecil was a very cautious person when it came to anyone who worked for the authorities, which made it a really hard challenge for Leaphorn to get information about the case. Throughout the book, Leaphorn had to essentially lie to Cecil to try and gain his trust. Cecil caught on to his tactics, which lead to him having to apologize for lying to the boy and lead to him treating him with much more respect. After Cecil’s father died he truly entrusted himself in Leaphorn.
George Bowlegs is best known as Ernesto’s best friend who was a Navajo. George seems to be growing up with a tough life, knowing that his mother ran away and his father being a raging alcoholic. To further this problematic situation, George is attending a Zuni school where is suffering from very discriminatory actions from his fellow students. George was seen as a role model for Cecil. George was hunting for food for both his brother and father, and became a successful hunter of both styles of the Zuni and the Navajo.
The next character of importance is the man who Lieutenant Leaphorn determined through his investigation that murdered Shorty Bowlegs, George Bowlegs, and Ernesto Cata. His name is Dr. Reynolds. Leaphorn has uncovered through his investigations that Dr. Reynolds was a well-known anthropologist that had planted fake arrowheads at an archeological dig site that he was supposedly funding for his upcoming protégé, Ted Isaacs. With that being said, Leaphorn believes this the reason why Dr. Reynolds killed Ernesto, George, and Shorty, to prevent anyone from finding out the truth behind what he had done.
The last important person to the story is the Zuni Chief of Police Ed Pasquaanti. When Leaphorn is dead certain that Dr. Reynolds was the killer, he went right to the chief. Ed then doesn’t even make an attempt to arrest Dr. Reynolds. Coincidentally this leads Leaphorn to tell the Zuni of the murder of Ernesto Cata, George Bowlegs, and Shorty Bowlegs. This is when the Zuni found Dr. Reynolds, and killed him for killing one of their own, Ernesto Cata.
In the beginning of the book, we learn of who Ernesto Cata was and how he ended up being murdered. Ernesto was a young boy that was selected by his people, the Zuni, to be the Shulawitsi, also known as the little fire god, at the festival of Shalako. Then the writer goes on to explain that the fire god must be in shape, if he isn’t Zuni people would beat him with their wands. We also meet George here, we find out that he wanted to know the secrets of the Zuni people and this tended to make Ernesto angry. Then one night that Ernesto running along one of his routes, he thought George would be waiting for him, but to his dismay it was an ancestor spirit that only one sees when they are about to die.
Finally we get to meet the Lieutenant that is going to be investigating the murder of Ernesto Cata. His name is Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn who is a Navajo Dinee policeman. One of the first things that Leaphorn did was he went to try and investigate Ernesto’s best friend George. But in return this is when he ended up meeting Cecil, George’s younger brother, who was a Navajo also. Leaphorn then tries to get some answers our of Cecil, but Cecil is very skeptical of law enforcement figures, especially since he thinks that he is trying to find his brother George who they may think killed Ernesto. Cecil tends to think otherwise from Leaphorn’s investigation.
Leaphorn then goes to where Cecil has pointed out that Ernesto and George had stolen some artifacts from, which took him to an archeological dig site. He meets Ted Isaacs and Dr. Reynolds, the two who want to prove Dr. Reynolds theory that some Folsom men have artistic arrowhead styles that were credited to other such cultures in a form of error. After he hears about the theory, Leaphorn then asks about if he has seen Ernesto and George. Dr. Reynolds then tells Leaphorn that he had chased the two boys out of his dig site so that they wouldn’t destroy or tamper with anything. Leaphorn asked if they had stolen anything, and he claimed that they did not, which doesn’t add up to what Cecil had told him before he went to the dig.
A couple days after the death of Ernesto Cata, authorities have determined that it was indeed a homicide, Ernesto was murdered. Leaphorn then started to investigate where he was murdered. While he was there, Leaphorn had used his excellent tracking skills and discovered the many tracks he found. He found Ernesto’s uncles, who found Ernesto, the chief of police’s, George’s boots, and finally an unknown track made from a moccasin. According to one of the details Leaphorn found, it is to his understanding that the killer and Ernesto had a stare down before he was eventually murdered. Then to finalize his investigation, he doesn’t think that George killed Ernesto.
Leaphorn then reflected back on what his grandfather Nashibittie had taught him. He told him that “the only goal for man was beauty, and that beauty was found only in harmony, and that this harmony of nature was a matter of dazzling complexity.” His grandfather told him that all patterns are caused by action and reaction and by cause and effect. The term he told him was “in all things a pattern, and in this pattern, the beauty of harmony. Thus one learned to live with evil, by understanding it, by reading its cause. Thus one learned, gradually and methodically, if one was lucky, to always ‘go in beauty,’ to always look for the pattern, and to find it.” All of these terms led Leaphorn to think back on the evidence that he had and try to connect someone with what happened to Ernesto.
Near the middle of the book, Leaphorn went back to interview Shorty Bowlegs. When he went inside, he was trying to remember what he was wearing and how he was acting. When Leaphorn opened the door, the only thing he saw was Shorty lying face down with a knife wound to his back. This is also when he noticed that two horses had been missing, but one returned and Cecil had arrived back to the Hogan. The other he assumed was missing from George taking it to wherever he may be hiding. The only thing left for Leaphorn to do is to start interrogating the students that George went to school with to see if he can find his whereabouts.
Looking back on all the information Leaphorn has, he now has a double homicide, and the only person that may truly know what is going on is missing. He reflects that he doesn’t think that George is the killer because of the mysterious moccasins he seen at the scene of the murder of Ernesto. If it were the case of George, he would have had to switch shoes which didn’t really make sense to Leaphorn. The only key part of this investigation is he needs to either find George the murderer, or George the future victim of a double homicide.
About three-fourths the way through the book, Leaphorn finally has a lead from Father Ingles that makes him believe he has headed to the Dance Hall of the Dead. Amazingly on the way he finds Susanne hitchhiking down the road, which he uses to his advantage because he knows George, would talk to her if they were to find him. After they arrive Leaphorn uses his excellent tracking skills to find the horse tracks from the missing horse at the Bowlegs hogan, which he ends up finding. Then after he found the tracks, he knew that George was an excellent hunter and that he needed food, so Leaphorn was to track the nearest deer tracks and hopefully those will lead to George’s hopeful location.
Finally near the end of the book, Leaphorn was at the festival, trying to let people know that he has given up looking for George. Just as he was about to call it quits, he sees George standing on a balcony across from him. Leaphorn obviously went into pursuit to try and catch him, but by the time he got to the alley he saw George go in, he heard a loud shot. When he found George, he was dead, and all he seen was his body and a feather from a salamobia mask. He then followed the tracks from the killer, and saw two moccasin tracks had captured the killer and this is when he realized that the investigation was all over. Leaphorn never told O’Malley who the killer was, but thought maybe one day he will send him a note explaining who the killer was.
This was a very interesting and very well illustrated and detailed book. I am not one to read books but I am glad you assigned these to us. I was surprised to see that the killer wasn’t George to say the least. He lasted how long out on the run from a professional tracker and from a man who wanted to make sure he wouldn’t unfold his fake important dig. It was also very intriguing to see it was Dr. Reynolds, and how they incorporated him into the story. It all revolved around the Zuni/Navajo ways and it showed me a lot about how they all will do anything for their own culture.
The only thing I thing that made it difficult for police to help solve a case is when they don’t give any details or the will to work with the police. For example, Cecil would not help Leaphorn because he worked for the police and he was even a fellow Navajo. I also see this being an issue anywhere around us today. You have those who still own land and they cherish that within their community. They have their own ways of policing and don’t really let others interfere with anything on their land. I can understand this, but times have changed and I think that they need to realize there are things that only they can’t really deal with on their own without the help of our local or federal government.
The Zuni are a different story. From what I could tell from the book, they didn’t want help when it came from handling the body themselves, but when it came from the investigation they were very cooperative. They informed Leaphorn of any information they had, while also telling him their so call traditions. The Zuni seem to be friendlier, unless it comes to the terms between them and the Navajo. Which I am sure we will never understand.