Last year it was Kurt Vonnegut; this year it is Tony Hillerman. Two of my my favorite storytellers have written their final chapters. I suppose it says something about their ability to weave a good tale that neither one of them wrote in my favorite genres,
Tony Hillerman's eighteen mysteries about the Navajo Tribal Police are not just great stories, they are also filled with Native American lore, rituals and taboos.
Lovely Leaphorn (Lt Joe Leaphorn) is one of my all time favorite characters: Lightly cynical, always logical, forever slightly removed. He is a character to study and respect.
At one my point in my life I lived (briefly) in Flagstaff, Arizona. I had a teacher friend who introduced me to life on the reservation. He lived there and taught in one of the "mission schools". That was the beginning of a fascination with Indian culture and lore.
During that time I also spent some time in Tuba City. Oh yeah . . .
Above and beyond the exploration of "white" vs "Navajo" culture; Hillerman is a master of describing social strata and class in America. Wealth and privilege are starkly drawn as are poverty and helplessness.
Monday morning I read a number of obituaries and storied about Hillerman. This may be my favorite:
Hillerman was one of the nicest authors we ever met, and he was so obliging in signing copies of his books that one bookseller joked that a rarity in the Southwest was an unsigned Hillerman mystery.
The New York Times piece about Hillerman is worth reading.
If aren't acquainted with Hillerman's work; do you self a big favor and start reading his series today. Here is a list of the titles in the series in order of publication:
- The Blessing Way (1970)
- Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
- Listening Woman (1978)
- People Of Darkness (1980)
- The Dark Wind (1982)
- The Ghostway (1984)
- Skinwalkers (1986)
- A Thief of Time (1988)
- Talking God (1989)
- Coyote Waits (1990)
- Sacred Clowns (1993)
- The Fallen Man (1996)
- The First Eagle (1998)
- Hunting Badger (1999)
- The Wailing Wind (2002)
- The Sinister Pig (2003)
- Skeleton Man (2004)
- The Shape Shifter (2006)
To start reading: Just follow this link!