01 February 2007

Tony Hillerman: The Shape Shifter

It's been over 35 years since Tony Hillerman wrote his first mystery, The Blessing Way. I don't know when I began reading his books, because once I did, I quickly read all the books that were available, and made a couple vacation trips to the desert southwest. I've been a fan of Hillerman's books ever since.

Now, whenever I read one of his books, I think it might be his last. He is, after all, over 80 -- at least 15 years beyond the age of retirement. He's been married almost as long as I've been alive. He could have stopped writing a long time ago and not even his most fanatic fans would be justified in comlaining too much.

A couple years ago, I read Skeleton Man and really liked it, even though it didn't quite measure up to A Thief of Time. I thought that Skeleton Man could be a respectable way to end a writing career.

But, Hillerman has written a new book, The Shape Shifter, which is also pretty good. Maybe better. I could be picky about things like some character development, incongruous plot elements, and the action-packed climax that wasn't as good as some earlier Hillerman books, but I won't. The guy has done a great job of putting together a story and telling it.

Plus, I got to hang out with old Joe Leaphorn. He's an interesting guy and I've liked him since I first read about him. Joe's retired from the Navajo police force, but there are still loose threads he wants to tie up. One of those loose threads invloves two stolen 5-gallon buckets of pinyon sap. That thread leads him to an old Navajo rug woven during the Long Walk and to a shape shifter.

The shape shifter is part of the magical history of the Navajo. It's a menacing creature that looks like one thing at one moment and becomes something else in the next moment. Hillerman has built the story around that image. The shape shifter in this story isn't Navajo, but is certainly menacing. And the story is intriguing. And the countryside that Hillerman describes is bleakly attractive.

Go ahead read the book. This one didn't disappoint me. And it's in the library.

An adoring review of Tony Hillerman and The Shape Shifter from BlogCritics.org

Roz Shea's plot summary and review of The Shape Shifter from Book Reporter

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