Book Review: Under A Desert Sky

51tOYF68sxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Murder doesn’t always strike my fancy, but while perusing the bookshelves, this one caught my eye, perhaps due to the Navajo connections. After reading Stephanie Grace Whitson’s Walks the Fire and others like it – which require much more cultural research than I usually attempt in my own work – I’m always game for similar stories.

Diann does something that’s rather unusual, however, in this book.

When you open up to chapter one, you’ll find yourself immediately immersed in Eva Fortier’s head with a rather well written, first person perspective. She isn’t overly gory with the details of the murder, and the scene moves quickly as she is rushed out of the state and into the care of the Ghost Ranch staff and the Benally family, who have old ties to her father.

When the story reaches New Mexico, the first person perspective shifts from that of Eva, to the third person perspective of Tahoma Benally. This is how Mills distinguishes between the two main characters. Eva is always in first. Tahoma is always in third.

And I have to say… I didn’t like it.

As a writer, I am always being pushed to second-guess my choices. Never do something simply to simply be artistic, but ask yourself, what does this have to offer my story? How does it enhance the work? If it brings nothing to the story, don’t do it.

And while I greatly enjoyed the story, the perspective felt strange to me and required some getting used to. The choice doesn’t necessarily add anything.

That being said, while I know nothing personally about the culture of the Navajo, Mills left me feeling as if I do. Tahoma’s predicament is an interesting one as he tries to bring white medicine to his people, but suffers rejection and exclusion when thing go wrong and his efforts are explained as “curses.” And his reluctance to share is faith is certainly relatable.

Tahoma is a man caught between two worlds with his white education and Navajo upbringing, so when he and Eva begin to feel attraction for one another, it’s both natural and a surprise with complications galore.

However, the story did feel a bit slow to me. It’s quite some time before the two meet and really begin to get to know one another, and this might be frustrating to you as a reader.

So, on the upside: I loved the characters, the historical detail is enriching to the story, and there’s a lovely plot twist that will have you on the edge of your seat.

On the downside: the POV shift can be a bit awkward, the pacing can be slow, and I personally think more could have been done to amp up the tension in Eva and Tahoma’s relationship (esp. as theirs is interracial and taking place during the Depression).

Would I recommend it? Sure. But it doesn’t make my top 10.


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