Jake Page's Indian Crime Fiction

Article excerpt

Background

One of the half dozen most powerful authors of Native American crime fiction is Jake Page, who has published five novels on the subject so far: The Stolen Gods (1993), The Deadly Canyon (1994), The Knotted Strings (1995), The Lethal Partner (1997), and A Certain Malice (1998). His tribe of concentration is the Hopi of New Mexico and northeastern Arizona. He centers on their lives and activities around Santa Fe, New Mexico, a city for which he has a love-hate relationship - love of its beauty and tradition, contempt for the commercialization of its facade and its pretentiousness. Santa Fe, Page has his leading character say, has "various social tribes that effectively define the city," and those tribes "have two overriding convictions. "One is that Santa Fe is as close to the original Eden as mankind has come since Adam and Eve were banished" (Gods 13).

The second is that Santa Fe is a small city, with all of the advantages generally associated with a town of that size. Page thinks that both personal convictions about a geographical site may be pushed too far. His evaluation comes from a cool, dispassionate analysis, which reveals all kinds of serpents in the Garden, such as pride, greed, blatant ambition, desire to shine in the public eye, and self-nurtured ignorance. In other words, Santa Fe is or is coming to be like Albuquerque, which Page hates, and other American cities.

Page, who has no Indian blood, writes of the Hopis of the area because he has lived and worked among them with his photographer wife, Susanne Anderson, since the early 1980s. He knows them well- not, he says in a letter to me, in the "sappy way a lot of people are who meet Indians and want to wear feathers or whatever," but in a much more profound and respectful way. Knowledge breeds respect. He respects the Hopis, and they know that they can count on him for friendly assistance whenever he can help, as he has on several occasions.

A Hopi tribal chieftain once asked Page if he would publish magazine articles about the theft of four Indian gods, a matter of profound importance to the Hopis. Page wrote such an article for Smithsonian magazine, but it was turned down. Page feels, as he said in his biographical letter to me, the reason was that the article "implicated a sister museum" in the trading of Indian religious artifacts. This is a crime against the federal government because the tribes fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and therefore are policed by the FBI. Page subsequently wrote another article for Connoisseur magazine, which also turned it down because, as Page told me in his biography, it "would be offensive to galleries." Having been forced to drink the gall of the injustice of the dominant art world's treatment of less powerful cultures, Page decided to write a novel on the subject, focusing on the kachinas, the religious artifacts that he considers splendid and deserving of the praise voiced by some art historians who consider this art form the most profound in America.

In his first novel, The Stolen Gods, Page shakes a large fist of accusation at art collectors and dealers who, by hook or crook, get control of and sell Hopi art to outside collectors who cannot understand and are indifferent to its religious significance. Callously and greedily they deprive the Indians of the soul of their existence, fattening on the commercial exploitation of religious artifacts. Page scornfully labels such practice simony, in the biblical sense of the word. Page does understand the significance of the kacbinas, their use in religious practices, and other manifestations of spirituality in the lifestyle of the Hopis. He wants to pay back the Indians for the sins of his fellow Americans and freely and fully offers his personal, family, and racial remorse and atonement for the misbehavior of fellow whites: "Over the years," he says in the author's note to The Stolen Gods, "many Hopi people have enriched my life and my family's lives in ways that one does not count. …