Monday, January 5, 2009

Remembering Tony Hillerman

Sometimes news gets past me. Sometimes I wish it didn't. I was reviewing some of those end-of-the-year lists of who passed on during the year and found to my dismay that author Tony Hillerman died in late October at the age of 83. Those of you who follow my blog know that I love the Colorado Plateau country, and Mr. Hillerman wrote wonderful novels set in the region. His murder mysteries chronicling the adventures of Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee fascinated me for years. He evoked the land and the native American people in a way that few Anglos could. I always looked forward to each new novel in the series.

One of my favorites was A Thief of Time, which was set in the vicinity of Bluff, Utah and on the San Juan River near Mexican Hat. Having rafted that part of the river, I knew the landscape well. It dealt with the issue of illegal plundering of archaeological sites in the southwest, a problem that continues more or less unabated today. During my trip down the river, I was admiring one of the complex cliff dwellings, wondering how it survived through the years. Then I was told that the walls had been repaired several times after someone knocked them down with a bulldozer looking for pottery.

Hillerman's novels were chronological, and we aged with the principle characters. From book to book we were left to wonder what would happen next to Jim, Joe, Janice Pete, Bernie Manuelito and the other complex characters he created over the years. He wrote 18 of the Chee/Leaphorn novels starting with The Blessing Way in 1970. His last was The Shape Shifter in 2006. Any of them are worth your time, whether you enjoy the settings, or the often complicated plots.

Thank you for the adventures...

The picture shows a part of the Chuska Mountains near the heart of the Navajo Reservation on the Arizona/New Mexico border.
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