Monday, October 27, 2008

Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman died yesterday. I feel an emptiness, knowing there'll be no more of the wonderful Leaphorn and Chee novels, no new excursions to the world of Navajo spirituality and the majestic, sometimes harsh, beauty of the land around the Four Corners.

". . . the sunset had darkened from glowing pale copper to dark copper. Against that gaudy backdrop, two streaks of clouds were painted, blue-black and ragged. To the left, a three-quarter moon hung in the sky like a carved white rock." (from A Thief of Time)

Hillerman was a poet -- a haiku-master of description. But it's his characters, Leaphorn and Chee, that bring his marvelous stories to life. Between them -- Leaphorn, the older, the supremely rational and analytical legendary lieutenant of the tribal police, and Chee, the younger policeman, the would-be hatali , singer of Navajo ceremonies -- we learn much of modern day Navajo life and the tension between the old ways and the new.

Whenever I'm asked what mystery writers I read, Tony Hillerman is at the top of the list. That won't change -- I've reread all his novels many times for the sheer joy of being in that world and I'll continue to visit again and again the mesas and canyons of New Mexico.

By all accounts, Hillerman was a good and happy man. His memoir is a warm recollection -- kind of like listening to your favorite grandfather tell about his life.

As Jim Chee, the hatali might say: May he go with beauty all around him.

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Susan M. Bell said...

I haven't read any of Hillerman's books, but do have a couple sitting here. I will have to pull them out and finally read them. Best way to remember an author when they pass is to read or reread some of their work. He has what most writers aspire to: immortality through his work.

Vicki Lane said...

Susan, I'd suggest you begin with his earlier works -- A THIEF OF TIME, SKINWALKERS, and TALKING GOD, are, IMHO, probably his best work.

The most recent books have been shorter and lack the really lovely feeling of the earlier ones. They're still worth a read -- but not quite as special. (Again, just my opinion.)

Tammy said...

Hey Vicki,
Just catching up with blogs (been down and out with an abcessed tooth). I was so sad when I saw the news on Monday. I started a post that I just finished tonight about Mr. Hillerman. What a great man. I do agree that some of his earlier works are the best. My favorites are Skinwalkers and the first Jim Chee novel... but any of those in that era are just great. I re-read them often and they always stir my heart with his vivid descriptions.
Take care,