The alumni basketball game at New Mexico's Shiprock High School always draws a big crowd, and Navajo Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito (Bernie) is on hand to watch the teams play. An explosion in the parking lot draws Bernie outside, where she sees a car in flames. Bernie calls for backup, and the police and FBI soon discover that the vehicle was ignited by a car bomb and one man was seriously injured - and soon died.
It turns out the car belongs to Aza Palmer, a Navajo lawyer slated to mediate a conference in Tuba City, Arizona. The conference concerns a proposed resort at the Grand Canyon - a project that's very controversial. The attendees will include the resort developers; local Indian tribes (Navajo and Hopi); and various enviromental organizations. In addition, 'open microphone sessions' are expected to attract a large number of opinionated people, determined to have their say.
Palmer isn't injured by the bomb but the Navajo police think it might have been intended to kill him, to stop him attending the conference. For this reason Sergeant Jim Chee (Bernie's husband) is assigned to drive Palmer to Tuba City and act as a bodyguard.
When the bomb victim is identified as twenty-something Rick Horseman, Palmer is very upset. He's known Rick for years, and tried to help the boy when he was abusing drugs and alcohol. Palmer can't fathom what happened at Shiprock High School, won't accept that he's in danger, and doesn't want a bodyguard. This negative thinking doesn't help when Palmer and Chee get to Tuba City, and all kinds of trouble erupts.
Someone in a car follows Palmer; the lights go out in the conference venue; the heating malfunctions in the building; demonstraters mill around and cause one ruckus after another; detractors shout at Palmer - claiming he's in the pocket of the builders; a violent protester bangs up a car with his sign; and so on.
Since Bernie has a few days off, she joins Chee in Tuba City, where they cooperate to protect Palmer and investigate the bombing. The inquiry is really the job of the FBI, but the two Navajo cops want to help.
To get needed advice, Bernie contacts Joe Leaphorn, 'The Legendary Lieutenant' who mentored herself and Chee. Leaphorn is retired now, recovering from a head injury that impaired his speech. The Lieutenant can still email, however, and - when he hears the name Rick Horseman - realizes he knew the victim. In fact Leaphorn rescued Rick from an abusive home when he was a child.
Bernie, Chee, and Leaphorn all make a contribution to the resolution of the case, and the book has a believable and satisfying conclusion. I like that Bernie really shows her mettle at the book's climax.
The original 'Navajo Tribal Police Mysteries' were written by Tony Hillerman, and his daughter Anne is following in his footsteps, continuing to write stories with the same characters. Anne does a creditable job, and provides a nod to Navajo customs, but I liked Tony's books better.
Tony's mysteries had more scenes concerning Navajo culture and beliefs, and - in Tony's novels - Jim Chee was studying to be a traditional healer.....which was very interesting. In addition, Tony's main character was 'The Legendary Lieutenant' himself - an unbeatable detective with a compelling background.
Still, 'The Song of the Lion' is a good mystery with an interesting setting; Bernie and Chee are likable characters; and fans of the series would enjoy the book.
The novel provides sufficient background to be read as a standalone.
Rating: 3 stars