Skinwalkers -- Starring Cherokee Wes Studi
by Christina Berry

American Mystery! Special: Skinwalkers (2002)

The Brits are known for their great murder mysteries. I know I find myself tuning in to BBC America to watch Inspector Morse, Cracker, and (I'm embarrassed to admit) Jonathan Creek. The long running PBS series "Mystery!" has always focused on British detectives and sleuthes, always, that is, until now. The first American episode of "Mystery!" is not just American but Native American.

Skinwalker is the television adaptation of a Tony Hillerman novel, and, best of all, it stars the Cherokee Nation's very own Wes Studi as Joe Leaphorn. Leaphorn is a seasoned city cop who has returned to the Navajo reservation to help his ailing wife recover in their home and with their people. But it will take more that regular police work to catch a killer who may be a "skinwalker" (a shape shifter witch who can kill with curses). To solve the crime, Leaphorn partners with Jim Chee, played by Adam Beach, an FBI Academy graduate who is also training to be a traditional healer.

More than just a murder mystery, this story combines Navaho tradition with contemporary life. That's right, surprise, surprise, Indians use cellphones too. It's about time that Native Americans are pulled out of the period pieces and presented as real, contemporary people. And how appropriate that the first American "Mystery!" should be about the first Americans.


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