Tony Hillerman is yet another author that I do not really remember which of his books was my first read of his. From his wiki intro:
Tony Hillerman (May 27, 1925 – October 26, 2008) was an award-winning American author of detective novels and non-fiction works best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels. Several of his works have been adapted as big-screen and television movies.
Hillerman’s Goodreads bio is a little more detailed (though apparently pulled from wiki as well):
Tony Hillerman, who was born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, was a decorated combat veteran from World War II, serving as a mortarman in the 103rd Infantry Division and earning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. Later, he worked as a journalist from 1948 to 1962. Then he earned a Masters degree and taught journalism from 1966 to 1987 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he resided with his wife until his death in 2008. Hillerman, a consistently bestselling author, was ranked as New Mexico’s 25th wealthiest man in 1996.
As I say, I’m not sure which of his mysteries I first read but i do know that once I discovered him, I went back and read many of his earlier books. Here’s wiki again:
His mystery novels are set in the Four Corners area of New Mexico and Arizona, sometimes reaching into Colorado and Utah and beyond, sometimes to Washington, DC, Los Angeles and other areas. The protagonists are Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo tribal police. Lt. Leaphorn was introduced in Hillerman’s first novel, The Blessing Way (1970). The second book in the series, Dance Hall of the Dead (1973), won a 1974 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Novel. In 1991, Hillerman received the MWA’s Grand Master Award. Hillerman has also received the Nero Award (for Coyote Waits) and the Navajo Tribe’s Special Friends of the Dineh Award.
The primary characters, Lt Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee were both written as proud members of the Navajo yet offering quite different perspectives on their lives as members of the Navajo Nation as well as their interactions with others:
Leaphorn, the older of the two policemen, is a realist. Educated in assimilationist Indian boarding schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he is not as well-versed in Navajo tradition as the younger officer Chee. Leaphorn’s approach to his cases is informed by some Navajo, or Dine, tradition, but is also influenced by Anglo-European logic. Leaphorn is somewhat untutored in his own culture and is resistant to some Navajo taboos. But at the same time, he realizes that many traditional Navajo still hold such beliefs and often act on them, in cases that result in violence. Leaphorn is called the “Legendary Lieutenant” by many members of his staff, and some of the younger policemen (especially Chee) hold him in awe.
Hillerman’s obituary from the NY Times offers some interesting details on his writing:
Hillerman’s evocative novels, which describe people struggling to maintain ancient traditions in the modern world, touched millions of readers, who made them best sellers. But although the themes of his books were not overtly political, he wrote with a purpose, he often said, and that purpose was to instill in his readers a respect for Indian culture. The plots of his stories, while steeped in contemporary crime and its consequences, were invariably instructive about ancient tribal beliefs and customs, from purification rituals for a soldier returned from a foreign war to incest taboos for a proper clan marriage.
“It’s always troubled me that the American people are so ignorant of these rich Indian cultures,” Hillerman once told Publishers Weekly. “I think it’s important to show that aspects of ancient Indian ways are still very much alive and are highly germane even to our ways.”
The recognition that gladdened him most, however, was the status of Special Friend of the Dineh conferred on him in 1987 by the Navajo Nation for his honest, accurate portrayal of Navajo people and their culture. It was also a special source of pride to him that his books are taught on reservation high schools and colleges.
According to his IMDB page, it looks like at least four of his novels have been adapted for TV/movies. Robert Redford has been the executive producer for PBS Mysteries in getting at least a few of the books to film.
As a change of pace, I do know I read one of Hillerman’s early, non-Navajo Tribal Mysteries novels, The Fly On the Wall (published in 1971.) My guess is this book came out of his journalism career (again from his wiki):
From 1948–1962, he worked as a journalist, then earned a master’s degree. He taught journalism from 1966 to 1987 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and also began writing novels. He lived there with his wife until his death in 2008.
If you like mysteries and wonderful scenic adventures, I can not recommend Hillerman too highly.
Photo from Taylor Burnes licensed under Creative Commons