Monday, January 25, 2010

A nasty pot habit

Title: A Thief of Time
Author: Tony Hillerman
Bookmark: Paper found inside the book with information on Hillerman and the Anasazi

Navajo Tribal Police officer Jim Chee is investigating the theft of a trailer and a backhoe. Joe Leaphorn, on terminal leave before retirement, gets involved in the search for a missing anthropologist. They realize their cases are connected when they meet at a tent revival, each following his own leads to the same place. The missing woman takes precedence when they find the trailer and backhoe accompanied by two men, dealing in illegally excavated Anasazi pots, each with fatal small-caliber bullet holes in their bodies.

Hillerman's novels are fascinating not only for the intricately laced mysteries, but for the insights he provides into Native American culture and beliefs. Granted, since I am neither a Native American nor closely acquainted with any, I have no idea how accurate these portrayals are, but since Hillerman received a "Friend of the Dinee" award from the Navajo nation, I think I can safely assume that he's pretty close to the mark.

Chee, the younger of our two detectives, is a traditionalist, trained to sing the Healing Way, while Leaphorn eschews any and all supernatural beliefs. His wife recently died from cancer returned from remission, and he takes an interest in the case of the missing woman mainly because he remembers how Emma would have asked him about the progress, offered her own insights, and been proud of him returning with an alive-and-well anthropologist. He wants to go out with a win. Chee, despite his differences with Leaphorn, has great respect for the older man and his methods, and is maybe looking for some fatherly pride.

The story is told in a laid-back, matter-of-fact way. It's not slow-moving; it's relaxed. Leaphorn often uses a Navajo Silence method for interrogation (if you don't say anything, most people, especially whites, will say something just to fill the silence), and although he and the subjects of his interviews often talk around what they're saying, you still realize what's really going on and left unsaid. Hillerman helps with clues as to the nuances of their voices and mannerisms, and subtle body-language cues that most would overlook. He realizes, as any good communicator does, that a great deal of what we tell people has nothing to do with the words we speak, and does a great job of passing these non-worded communiques to the reader.

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posted by reyn at 5:29 PM


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