is a 1990 detective novel by American author Tony Hillerman. It is the tenth novel in Hillerman’s series known by his fans as both the Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee
series and the Navajo Tribal Police
series. The novel concerns the work of Officers Leaphorn and Chee, who solve crimes on a reservation and its surrounding towns. Coyote Waits
takes place in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, exploring how rural residents of the American West, many of whom are displaced by the war, are entangled in odd criminal cases.
At the beginning of the novel, Officer Chee and Officer Nez make plans to meet during their break at the trading post at Red Rock. While Chee is en route, officer Nez announces over the radio that he has found the man who has been repeatedly defacing rock formations with graffiti. Nez’s jocular tone convinces Chee that he has a handle on things, so he takes his break without him. Mid-break, his instinct tells him that he should join Nez. When he reaches the scene, Nez’s police car is burning, and he is trapped inside. Chee pulls Nez out but is too late: he has already sustained fatal gunshot wounds. The detective team arrives to investigate, and Chee arrests a suspect near the scene, a drunk man with a gun named Ashie Pinto. Afterward, Chee is hospitalized with severe burns.
Two people who know Pinto, his niece Mrs. Keeyani and a professor named Louisa Bourebonette, call Leaphorn insisting that Pinto did not commit the murder of Officer Nez. Bourebonette had been working with Pinto, a crystal gazer, on research into desert mysticism. Mrs. Keeyani admits that Pinto has struggled with alcoholism and that he once killed a man in a drunken rage. However, she believes that he could never commit the same crime again. Leaphorn tries to find the owner of the car that left Nez’s murder scene as Chee arrived, and traces it to Huan Ji, a man under CIA protection who recently came from Vietnam.
As Chee recovers in the burn unit, he decides to quit the force once the murder case is over. He joins the investigation and connects Pinto to another professor named Tagert, who is trying to find the grave of the notorious bank robber Butch Cassidy. He meets one of Tagert’s colleagues, a world languages expert named Odell Redd. Meanwhile, Leaphorn goes to Ji’s residence to interview him but finds him dead. Before dying, Ji scrawled two messages on his wall: “Save Taka” and “Lied to Chee.” Leaphorn learns that Taka is Ji’s teenage son.
The officers realize that Taka was the man driving Ji’s car at the crime scene. They find him, and he alleges that he was merely watching the graffiti artist and Pinto from afar. Once he realized Pinto was drunk, he drove away. To see if his story makes sense, Chee returns to the rock formation. There, he discovers two mummified bodies, an old saddle, and a saddlebag. The whole area is also a rattlesnake den. Chee fails to safely retrieve the saddlebag. When he is about to give up, he notices some drag marks. He follows them to a third corpse, that of Professor Tagert. Standing over him is Odell Redd who is aiming his gun at Chee. Redd confesses that he drove the three men to the rock formation on the day of Nez’s murder. After a dispute over Butch Cassidy’s grave, Tagert held Redd at gunpoint to make him leave. Behind his back, Pinto took his gun and killed Tagert. Redd then escaped the scene.
Redd tries to take the saddlebag but disturbs a rattlesnake, which bites his throat. He holds Chee at gunpoint, forcing him to back off. Redd escapes in his car, but not after damaging Chee’s so that it is undrivable. Chee makes his way to the trading post and jumps on a flight to Albuquerque, hoping to make it to Pinto’s court case the same morning to explain what happened. He arrives just after Pinto confesses that he killed both Tagert and Nez, blaming it on alcoholism.
At the end of the novel, Redd is found dead in his vehicle on a country road. Leaphorn relishes the end of the case and decides to go on vacation. Chee becomes romantically involved with his long-time interest, the lawyer Janet Pete, and Leaphorn asks Professor Bourebonette to join him in China. Coyote Waits
’ frustrating and eccentric crime plot resolves with both protagonists newly refreshed and optimistic about their futures outside the law enforcement world.