Pre-release reviews for Heart Chants were very favorable:
Heart Chants is an intricately woven tale around the life, tradition, and wonders of the Diné people. It leaves you wanting to unravel more stories behind the people, place and creation of it all.
(Direct reservation trader since 1985 in authentic Navajo art)
Master storyteller Randy Attwood scores again. This time, he’s traced an unexpected, jarring intersection of cultures and bruised mental states that lead the reader into the deepest shadows. Beliefs can sustain a people when all else fails. Sometimes, belief must be tempered with understanding. When that is lacking, evil seeps in. Heart Chants illustrates how even evil done for reasons of restoring harmony is simply, evil. His evocative descriptions of Southwestern vistas and his detail rich research into the Navajo culture pay back in an absorbing reading experience.
(Seattle area writer)
Reading Heart Chants has made me want to read the rest of Phillip McGuire's exploits.
From the first sentence we sense... something unsettling and other worldly. Randy Attwood paints a picture for the reader simply but expertly. His dialog has you hovering over the shoulders of the characters. Where some authors leave you as an observer, Randy involves the reader - drawing them in deeply from the start.
He builds the relationship between his characters with the same delicate strokes and soft colors he uses to create the setting. You learn about Phil through injuries of exploits unseen and it's almost perfect. I say almost because I don't think Phil would like anything to be perfect. I think that would piss him off.
The story reads easy, and moves at a good pace. There are elements of Noir Fiction as things move forward, and I found myself enjoying a genre I had long ago abandoned.
We are involved in both the richness of the Navajo culture and the intrigue of the Chinese Political Environment of the late '80s. For both, be prepared to do a little research to fill in some blanks, it will improve your understanding greatly.
As in real life, some people are who they seem and others aren't. The characters grow and question the world around them, finding connections between their lives and between monsters both real and mythical. Most importantly, Randy honors the voices of his characters and their culture in a way few can match. The result is a mini education of the Navajo people from disparate viewpoints.
More than most authors, Randy Attwood puts you in the setting. You find yourself walking through the lands of Navajo, and exploring the town of Lawrence, Kansas. Again I'll avoid any more detail than this so you can explore and experience the settings on your own.
The ending, while not the one I expected, was satisfying and somehow, well there's no other word for it, perfect. Sorry, Phil - but sometimes things are perfect, even when they aren't.
Just remember, Coyote is a trickster and the magic of the ancient world is real.
Reviewer for Midwest Review of Books
(Here's a review of Attwood's second mystery novel. In it he does the unthinkable--he writes a Hillerman-like mystery set among the Navajo--and he stays even with Hillerman and even exceeds him in the ethnology, hard as that is to believe. This is a heck of a book. I have left much of the hyperbole out of the review in order to keep the review from sounding as though it was written by a PR man.)
Randy Attwood has done a gutsy thing. He has gone up against the legacy of Tony Hillerman in the second novel of his Philip McGuire crime series. Even better he wins the bet, not because his crime novel is better than any of Hillerman’s, although it might be and probably is, but because he has the good sense to play off Hillerman in a totally novel way.
The action in Attwood’s novel is set in the Midwest in the outlying Kansas City suburb of Lawrence. Some may know the burg as the seat of the University of Kansas Jayhawks, but it is also home to Haskell Indian College. Philip McGuire, the novel’s main viewpoint character and protagonist, has settled there after a short career as a foreign correspondent which culminated in his being taken hostage, his hand mutilated, and then released by the Hezbollah in Lebanon right after they blow up the Marine base in the early 1980s. McGuire retains his intrigue of foreign things. His love interest in the novel is the lovely Chinese activist Hsu Chi. Yes, Chinese in a novel that delves more deeply into Navajo cosmology than any Hillerman novel I’m familiar with ever went.
The bad guy, and wow is he ever a bad guy, is a Navajo half caste, who comes to Lawrence to live with and then assassinate his birth mother. He builds a hogan inside the barn on his mom’s place after he inherits the property, and takes a job as janitor at Haskell Junior College. There is a deep method to this plan. He had been raised in the Southwest and had been trying since his youth to become a full-blooded Navajo in spirit. As a byproduct his spiritual quest, he fervently believes, will also drive the white man from Navajo land. At Haskell he finds three Navajo coeds whose Navajo connections and gruesome deaths and gory dismemberment (and cannibalization) will complete the black magic ritual he had started in the Southwest. At this point, the usefulness to the general reader of some familiarity with Navajo ritual thanks to Hillerman novels should be apparent.
Two of the coeds are indeed abducted and ritually slain. In an unrelated subplot McGuire’s Chinese love interest is made off with by red Chinese agents, and almost immediately afterwards so is the third Navajo girl. A Navajo tribal policeman arrives in Lawrence to investigate the disappearances. Though interesting enough in his way, this cop is no rival to Hillerman’s twin protagonists. He resembles nothing so much as a dutiful nightclub bouncer. The investigation tool he brings along to find the girls goes one up on Hillerman. It’s an elderly seer known only by the reverend old-age title of Hosteen. He knows not a word of English and is guided only by his knowledge of Navajo ways.
Attwood pulls the various storylines and conceptual elements together in a most satisfying and compelling conclusion. If you like hardboiled mysteries or Hillerman or novels with multi-ethnic subplots, this is a book for you.
Top 1000 Amazon reviewer
My Thoughts: This book provides a peek into the legends and lore of the Diné, or as they are commonly known, the Navajo. Their creation story is beautiful.
“In the beginning was the wind. And when the earth came, the wind cared for it. And when the darkness came, the wind breezed across it beautifully. And when the dawn came and laid its lightness over the darkness, We, the People, were created. And the wind kissed our faces.”
Phil McGuire's portion of the story focuses on two young women—Hsu Chi and Zonnie—whom he takes in to try to protect, Hsu Chi from anti-democratic Chinese gangs, and Zonnie from whoever or whatever has taken away two of her friends, also Navajo, from their college. Attwood has obviously done a great deal of research into the Diné culture, legends and lore and shows the reader exactly how beautiful that culture was, and how much the European settlers destroyed in their hubris. I do not know if there are any reparations to be made for the damage we did to the native cultures here, but I find it been heartbreaking how much knowledge has been lost. It would behoove us to find those who have kept this knowledge and preserve it before it is gone forever.
I found the talk Ko-yo-teh had with the old man at the filling station very funny, especially when the old man repeated the message he had sent to the moon in Navajo: “Watch out for these guys; they come to take your land.” Sad, of course, but also very funny. It fits in with the overall theme of the book, which is well represented by this quote:
“I'm convinced the deepest passion mankind has is the need to inflict belief on another person. Belief in God, belief in these words as God's words, belief in this interpretation of these words, belief in these acts in the name of God. If it's not religion, it's politics.”
Like all of Randy Attwood's stories, this one is absolutely amazing. I kept having goose bumps from reading it. Highly recommended for those who enjoy a good story, especially if you are interested in Native American stories and culture.