27 October 2008

Tony Hillerman, RIP

Acclaimed mystery writer Tony Hillerman passed away this weekend at the age of 83, most likely from old age, and complications due to previous illnesses.

Growing up, I probably read more mystery novels than any other kind of genre fiction, and Hillerman's Chee & Leaphorn novels, set on the Navaho Reservation in the Four Corners section of Arizona/New Mexico, were second only to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries for me.

Hillerman had a clean, lyrical style to his prose, but more importantly, he had created two of the most unique and complicated and endearing characters in all of modern fiction, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Seargant Jim Chee, both working for the Navaho Tribal Police on the rez, but both approaching life and the mysteries they must solve from entirely different directions. Leaphorn was the slightly grizzled pro - the older lawman who had a rather pragmatic view of life and people, as opposed to Jim Chee, the younger, more idealistic crimesolver who was studying to become a Shaman because he believed in the magical and mythical.

Chee also believed in the sanctity of his people, the Navaho, where Leaphorn, as I've mentioned, wasn't so idealistic. The Navaho people, to him, weren't necessarily "special" in any meaningful way, something the crimes he had to solve would tend to prove. And yet, Hillerman himself seemed to have a great affinity for America's desert southwest, and for the Navaho people in particular, because he so painstakingly wrote about the majestic beauty of the land, and the pride of it's honorable inhabitants.

In the end, I believe it was the Navaho Reservation setting, and Hillerman's great affections for it, that really elevated the writer's work above just about everybody else working in the mystery genre, with the exception of the aforementioned Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and possible James Lee Burke.

RIP, Tony Hillerman, and thanks for all the great mystery novels. You will be missed.

Hotcha! Hank

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home