Monday, May 16, 2011

Hillerman Country

Last year, a death in the family brought us out to California. On the way out, we had a brief stopover in Phoenix. This was my first time in Arizona, and as I looked out the airport windows, I thought of Tony Hillerman, Joe Leaphorn, and Jim Chee.

It took me a while to get a complete set of the books together. Some I already had - I used to read them as they were published in the late 80's and 90's - but I couldn't find them. DH went on ebay and gave me a complete set for Christmas. So at last, motivated by that brief glimpse of Arizona, I'm reading my Hillermans.

What a great series! I had forgotten how much I had enjoyed them. But reading them in order really lets me see how the series improves, and how Leaphorn and Chee develop. The series begins with Joe Leaphorn as the investigator, but Jim Chee is introduced in the fourth novel, People of Darkness, while Leaphorn is absent from this and the next two books. I think that Chee is better developed as a character at this point (I'm on the 5th novel, The Dark Wind.) He has a good sense of humor, and is studying to become a Navajo shaman.

Landscape is very important in these novels. Sunsets are lovingly described in great detail. Much action takes place in the desert, in arroyos and canyons and mesas and buttes I've never seen. It is a world both remote and vast, and totally foreign to this New Yorker. Navajo culture is equally important to the plots. Hillerman handled it with great respect. The mythology is interesting, as are the ceremonies and the importance Navajos place on harmony with nature, or walking in beauty.

Right now, I am almost a third of the way through the series. After The Ghostway (#6 in the series), Leaphorn and Chee are teamed together, and it will be interesting to see their different styles of investigating.

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