GIRL WITH SKIRT OF STARS by Jennifer Kitchell

Book Quote:

“Yes, there was a message written in this man’s death, and it included the hood of her Dodge. Something logical to the murderer. Something obviously about Ma’ii, the Coyote. …Maybe Trybek had the coyote parts that played into the murder. But she had the two coyotes that had been mutilated. The murderer had something symbolic to tell her.”

Book Review:

Review by Katherine Petersen (NOV 25, 2009)

On her way to work, Lilli Chischilly finds two dead coyotes on the hood of her truck. She knows it’s a message but hasn’t figured out who, what or why. Lilli buried the coyotes, but that’s just the first piece of a mystery that grows in size and complexity every time she turns around. A murdered Navajo man found in the Badlands with coyote reproductive parts shoved down his throat; a series of photographs of a girl taken by her friend from long ago, Jerome Bah; political favors wanted from the presidential front runner; and another man who wants to kill the candidate to revenge a family wrong from the past. Somehow they all connect.

Lilli grew up on the Navajo reservation, attended college and law school among the whites and has come back to put her legal skills to work for the reservation’s Historic Preservation Department. She has a strategic position that straddles both worlds and makes her crucial to the plans of people who might not have her best interests at heart. Jerome, the boy who was forever at her side as a boy, has returned from L.A. to the reservation after losing a wife and child, hoping to begin their relationship again. A photographer who speaks in pictures, Jerome has a message to convey to her through a series he took of a girl. And he wants a response. Then Lilli’s boss assigns her to take a water-rafting trip down the Colorado River with Mr. Lee, the front runner in the presidential race. Billed as time to spend with his family and learn about the Navajo people, Lilli knows he wants something from her as the Navajo’s representative, but she doesn’t know what.

Jennifer Kitchell delivers a beautifully written, lyrical and deftly plotted mystery in Girl with Skirt of Stars. Her intimate knowledge of the Navajo make it easy for her to bring this world of “walking in beauty” to life for her readers. It also gives her intimate knowledge and ability to fully develop Lilli’s character as one who understands two cultures: how they mix and how they collide. Navajos emphasize balance: good and evil, light and dark, right and wrong. Lilli also must confront a difference between white and Navajo justice, and for Navajos, sometimes two wrongs might make a right.

Kitchell combines political agendas, revenge, mysticism and murder to create a story that twists and turns, giving the reader small glimpses as the pages turn. Kitchell has a natural talent for storytelling, so doesn’t need to rely on action scenes to propel her plot. Instead, she spends time interweaving action with in-depth character development, illustrations of Navajo custom and belief with flowing prose and descriptive scenes where you can almost feel the canyon walls at the narrowest point of the Colorado River and distinguish different bird calls and blossom colors. She also possesses a deep understanding of human nature–at its best and at its worst—showing us individuals who will do anything to right a long-ago wrong or to win her approval and one man who ignores advice in his attempts to help her. Lilli struggles to understand the people and mystery around her, piecing together motives and information she gleans along the way in her attempt to determine the truth and keep her people safe. Kitchell intertwines Navajo lore, rituals and customs into the story in a way that adds credibility and knowledge without taking away from the plot. I recommend this book to all mystery fans but especially those who enjoy Native American mysteries. Girl with Skirt of Stars has a more literary feel than the mysteries of Tony Hillerman and Aimee and David Thurlo, but I think fans of these authors will find Kitchell’s novel as rich and enjoyable as I did.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 10 readers
PUBLISHER: Pronghorn Press; first limited edition, edition (August 1, 2009)
REVIEWER: Katherine Petersen
AMAZON PAGE: Girl with Skirt of Stars
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Jennifer Kitchell
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt

Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman

Death Walker by Aimee & David Thurlo


More fiction about Mountain Meadows Massacre:
Redeye: A Western by Clyde Edgerton


More Native American fiction:

The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich and her previous novels

The Grass Dancer by Susan Power



Selling Your Father’s Bones by Brian Schofield


November 25, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Mystery/Suspense, US Southwest, Wild West

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