Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Tony Hillerman
By Richard Mahler
You don't simply read a Tony Hillerman mystery; you experience it. Here's a passage from The Shape Shifter:
"Joe Leaphorn took a serious look at the clouds building up in the western sky as he walked into the Navajo Tribal Police building. End of autumn, he was thinking. Monsoon season pretty much over. Handsome clouds of fog over the Lukachukai range this morning, but nothing promising a really good female rain. Just a noisy male thunderstorm."
Novelist Hillerman is of European descent, but he grew up among Native Americans and travels often to southwestern reservations and pueblos. Hillerman's descriptions of their cultures have earned the author great respect among many Pueblo, Apache, Ute, and Navajo people.
The latter receive special attention from Hillerman, who features tribal police officers like Joe Leaphorn:
"The bedroom he and Emma had shared for three happy decades faced both the sunrise and the noisy street. When Leaphorn had pointed out that the quieter bedroom had no windows facing the dawn, no further explanation was needed. Emma was a true Navajo traditional with the traditional's need to greet the new day."
Hillerman describes the Colorado Plateau as many of its people experience it: the desert's bright morning sun; the gender-specific rainstorms that are gentle or violent; the play of mist across its mountains. Through his literary lens, indigenous people are brought to life in a vast landscape where each mesa, every animal, every ageless ritual, and all natural phenomena hold profound and ancient meaning.