04 August 2007

More Old Hillerman

While I'm at this, I can transfer another old entry from ReadingOnTheWeb to this blog.

Here's my account from 2002 of a summer spent reading several Tony Hillerman books:

There was indeed a new Tony Hillerman mystery in the works when he wrote his memoirs.

I picked it up this spring at River City Books. The bookstore is a joint project on mainstreet of Northfield's two colleges. Most of the off-campus bookstores in town sell used books. There was a bookstore here for years, but it closed when the owners moved away. I have no concept of the profitability of these little independent bookstores, but I hope this one stays around. Neither of the colleges will subsidize it long, so it'll be my source for books and certainly more convenient than finding a place on one of the campuses to park while patronizing those bookstores. [It's still here in 2007.]

The new book is The Wailing Wind, a novel that brings together two sad stories. The investigative action centers around a legendary New Mexico gold mine, two murders separated by many years, and a children's Halloween scare. Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, the familiar Navajo police officers from Hillerman's other New Mexico novels are active and in character. Bernadette Manuelito becomes a main character and more obviously a love interest for Jim Chee. (That's a bit of promise that there's more story to come. Just remember, the guy's in his late seventies.)

Some of the pieces of this mystery fall together too conveniently for Leaphorn and Chee, but in another section of the book Manuelito and Chee ingeniously answer one set of questions in different ways. It's a bit of the old master's plotting that helps make the book a pleasure.

As usual, in Hillerman's books, the familiar characters and landscape play a vital role. I really like these imaginary people. And sometimes I like Hillerman's descriptions of the beauty of the desert landscape more than I like the desert itself. When I'm in the desert, I'm often distracted by the unfamiliar and uncomfortable heat and sun to pay attention to the beauty of the landscape. (Is that a hint that I should spend more time in New Mexico?) While this novel doesn't measure up to my memories of Hillerman at his best (Thief of Time), I've never been disappointed with one of his books. He can count on me to be in the bookstore whenever he writes more.

As a footnote, I bought a used copy of Hillerman's Dancehall of the Dead in Yachats, Oregon while on vacation.

Dancehall... is one of the early Joe Leaphorn mysteries (before Hillerman lost the rights to use the Leaphorn character and before Hillerman bought the rights back from those clever lawyers). I really enjoyed rereading this book. Two things struck me as I compared this 1973 novel with the more recent ones.

Hillerman used to spend a lot more time describing the landscape and the weather. Most of the descriptions were paeans to the rugged beauty of the desert and mountain territory. I enjoyed them.

The plot of Dancehall... was a lot more complex than the plots of more recent novels. I don't know if that's a generalization or just a comparison. I guess I'm ready to read anew some of the other older Hillerman novels. And I highly recommend them to you.

A month after reading Dancehall of the Dead in Oregon, I read Hillerman's first mystery: The Blessing Way.

It was originally published in 1970, at least 15 years before I discovered the beauties of New Mexico and Hillerman's prose.

This first novel also includes a great deal more detail about the desert landscape and weather of the Navajo Nation. It also includes much more detail about Navajo culture than I remember from other books. And like Dancehall of the Dead, the plot is more complex than some of the later books.

What I had forgotten was how well Hillerman could write suspense and danger. The last sixty pages of The Blessing Way kept my heart thumping. After finishing, I remembered that there were a couple times that Hillerman kept me on the edge of my seat. I don't have a good enough memory to make meaningful comparisons between these first books and the most recent ones, but I find Hillerman's books real pleasures. I might have to read some more of them again.

1 comment:

Ken Wedding said...

The annotated bibliography was NOT a threat to my browser when I checked it on 30 September 2007. Any number of things could have changed since I first accessed it: I might have a new browser, the server software might have changed, the "http" code might have been re-written. I don't think there's any reason to fear it.