Jim Chee, acting lieutenant in the Navajo Tribal Police follows up a call for backup by officer Benny Kinsman. He finds Kinsman dead and Robert Jano standing over him with blood on his clothes and arm. Kinsman has arrested Jano for poaching eagles in the past, and Chee correctly assumes he was poaching on this occasion. He arrests Jano for murder.
Jano claims he is bleeding because an eagle he caught tore his arm. However, an eagle in Jano's cage shows no traces of blood. Jano says he caught another eagle, but it got away. That he says, is the eagle that wounded him.
While Chee is following up the Kinsman murder, his mentor and former lieutenant Joe Leaphorn – now working as a private detective – is investigating the disappearance of a biologist, Catherine Pollard. Catherine and Richard Krause study bubonic plague among the animals – and fleas – in the Navajo and Hopi country of the Southwest. They work for the Arizona Health Service, and they are concerned because a drug-resistant strain of the disease has killed three people recently. Apparently coincidentally, Catherine has disappeared in the same area as Kinsman's murder. However, Leaphorn, with 30 years of police experience, doesn't believe in coincidences.
Chee's life is further complicated by the presence of Janet Peet as Jano's court-appointed attorney. Chee and Janet were engaged at one time, but they were never able to reconcile his desire to stay with his tribe and her desire to live high in Washington. After a stint in the Justice Department, she's back – and Chee harbors a hope that this means she has decided to return to her people and to him. At her insistence, he continues investigating a case he considered closed. His Navajo skills serve him well as he catches the eagle that wounded Jano – confirming at least part of Jano's story.
One possible witness to Kinsman's murder is a researcher, Al Woody. Woody is trying to understand why some colonies of prairie dogs and kangaroo rats survive a plague that wipes out thousands of animals around them. Success could lead to a plague vaccine. Woody has been working in the same area as Catherine, which is the area where Kinsman was murdered.
As Chee and his former boss, Joe Leaphorn, compare notes on their two cases, they discover evidence that seems to link them. They work together to find a solution that wraps up both mysteries.
This report prepared by David Gordon
A form of the plague is racing across the Navajo nation, much to the fear of its people. Another deadly form is also stalking the reservation--in the form of a killer of humans! Acting Lieutenant Jim Chee has come upon a Hopi eagle poacher--a serious crime in itself--over the corpse of a tribal policeman, and he knows he has an early case solved! The "evidence" is obvious that the man is guilty of murder. But not so fast. Retired Joe Leaphorn enters this scenario. To complicate things, a medical biologist named Cathy Pollard disappears--the exact day that the policeman was murdered. Add to this is news that a skinwalker (a Navajo witch) is making appearances! Hillerman, in "The First Eagle," really makes the feathers fly and this episode in the series shores up Hillerman's reputation as a first rate writer of Southwestern mysteries!
This report prepared by Bill Hobbs