Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mystery great Tony Hillerman dies

Posted By on Tue, Oct 28, 2008 at 12:53 PM

One of the greatest mystery writers in the world died Sunday. Tony Hillerman, who created beloved characters that were among the most unique in crime fiction — Navajo law enforcement officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee — died of pulmonary failure at age 83 in Arizona.

Beginning in 1970 with The Blessing Way, Hillerman's Navajo Tribal Police mysteries evolved into one of the great series in American crime fiction. Set primarily in New Mexico and Arizona, Hillerman's books gave readers much more than murders to solve, immersing them in the complex Navajo culture, and highlighting its conflicts with white American, or belagana, society.

With such classics as A Thief of Time, Skinwalkers, Coyote Waits, Dancehall of the Dead and Talking God, Hillerman took readers into a culture and way of life few of them knew still existed, and simultaneously raised the bar for other mystery writers' research and authenticity. He wrote in a direct, plainspoken style, and at an often-contemplative, pace. Over the years, that pace grew more out of sync with his contemporaries' books as the mystery genre gradually ratcheted up its grisliness and violence quotient. But Hillerman's fans stuck with him; for many readers, in fact, he was the author that sparked their interest in crime fiction to begin with.

At their best, Hillerman's mysteries, for all their simplicity, evince a real depth of understanding of human motives in all their complexity and unpredictability, that is hard to top in any form of contemporary fiction, genre or otherwise.

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