Tony Hillerman wrote eighteen novels featuring one or both of the Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. I confess to having read just one. Hillerman's is one of those dozens of regional voices in American fiction writing authentic tales of people way outside what was the first mainstream of crime fiction in New York and Los Angeles or just anonymous 'big cities". My own favourite is Carl Hiaasen who writes very funny crime stories about crime and corruption in Florida.
Hillerman died in 2008 and since then his daughter Anne (so Wikipedia tells me) has continued to issue novels devoted to the two policemen. She has brought to the front and centre Jim Chee's wife, Officer Bernadette Manuelito. In the TV series Dark Winds Jim and Bernadette meet for the first time and romance ensues despite her prickly solitary character. "Never had a man in your trailer huh?". She prefers to devote her attention to her horses, one of which eventually plays a key role in the final scenes of the series. I'm digressing.
|Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon)|
There are two key violent events in Dark Winds. At the opening there is a violent bank robbery involving a helicopter and the shooting deaths of three armed guards by masked men. Then an old Native American appears at the door of a motel room seeking treatment from what used to be called at least a medicine woman. He's let in by the woman's grand daughter. Not much later the police are called to investigate the death of the old man and the grand daughter. The twoi stories intertwine throughout and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police is on the case. His assistant is Bernadette Manuelito and shortly thereafter they are joined by fresh faced young policeman Jim Chee. Lurking around the edges is FBI Agent Whitover played as a cop in a suit by Noah Emmerich, last seen playing an FBI Agent in six seasons or so of The Americans.
|Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon)|
Whitover's base of operations is a hotel resort on the edge of Monument Valley and early on we get a bit of cinephilia when we learn its the place where the movie stars stayed when John Ford came out there to make his Cavalry Trilogy among others. There's a bit more when we see a moment from Hawks' Red River on a small black and white TV.
A tug of war between police agencies starts. Joe is the entree into the Native American community and its exotic customs and spiritual beliefs. This is dealt with quite extensively. As well there's a lot of back story to explain his various relationships. Chief among that element is the loss of Joe's son in what is regarded as a mining accident, at least at first. Whitover is concerned to catch the bank robbers. Joe wants to find out who murdered the old man and literally scared the granddaughter to death. Each has their reasons though Whitover's main motivation takes until ep six to be revealed.
|Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matten)|
The most poignant moment comes at the end of ep four. Joe sits alone at his dining table. He's alienated from his wife, his two assistants, Whitover, the local native American community...everybody....a man whose heritage, morality, desire to do his job and the circumstances of his marriage and his wife's care for another young woman have all combined into solitary despair.
Dark Winds Is played by, written by and filmed by Native Americans we are told...and its very very good indeed. It has an authentic feel rarely achieved and you have to give credit to those who got it done so well. Credit also to SBS on Demand for buying it, though you could say that about dozens of their programs when you think about it....
Next up Series Two.