March 10, 2007

Hillerman's good--except this time

Navajo mystery familiar yet underdevelopedI keep coming back to Hillerman because of his ability—despite being an Anglo—to capture key concepts and elucidate the mores of the Four Corners American Indians, mainly the Navajo.

He has earned the Navajo Tribe’s Special Friend Award and has received the Mystery Writers of America Edgar and Grand Master awards.

In his acclaimed Joe Leaphorn series, featured on PBS, Hillerman uses Navajo creation tales, historical events and cultural practices and attire as filters through which his characters, mainly Navajo law enforcement officers, process the crimes.

It’s often a careful dance they walk that blends Western investigative techniques and an anti-paranormal frame of reference with their indigenous upbringings and the Navajo focus on spirit worlds and gods.
But:“The Shape Shifter” has a rather distant feel in comparison to the other mysteries in the series.

Moreover, while we readers know the full truth of the tale, Leaphorn omits some key facts in the final chapter when he talks directly with Chee. It seems an odd concession since he went to Chee expressly to confess.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Well, seems like at least one reviewer agrees with writerfella's take on SHAPE SHIFTER. It certainly is the least of all the Jim Chee - Joe Leaphorn combo novels simply because the 'mystery' is so pedestrian it could have happened in New Jersey among non-Native Bricktowners. This says nothing of course toward how well the book is selling or not selling. It simply means that, for now, Tony Hillerman has run out of gas. By the bye, he 'won' that "Special Friend" Award from the Navajos AFTER he hired two or three Navajo 'advisors' to help guide his writings...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

Better late than never.

Do you know which book Hillerman published first after hiring the advisors?

Rob said...

Well, the award didn't prevent him from making mistakes in The Dark Wind (1989). Of course, those pertained to the Hopi, not the Navajo.

Rob said...

I stand corrected on the date. Which means The Dark Wind fits the pattern of culturally insensitive books written without the help of advisors.