Honest Words

It may be an embarrassing admission for somebody who has been a book review editor for the last 14 and a half years, but the truth is I had never heard of Tony Hillerman until May 1989, when I began traveling in the Southwest in connection with a book-writing project I am working on and the wife of a friend of mine in Ignacio, New Mexico, asked casually if I had read any of Hillerman's books. These she described as detective novels set on and around the Navajo Indian Reservation, and since I had already spent time wandering on "the Res" (as it is known locally) and planned to spend more time, I kept an eye open for Hillerman's work and bought a couple of paperback volumes when I came across them. In the subsequent 14 months I have read eight of his eleven novels for adults (a twelfth is for children) and am on the lookout for the other three. He has several more under contract, and when Harper & Row publishes them I am going to read those, too. This makes Tony Hillerman the third detective novelist, after Conan Doyle and Raymond Chandler, whom I have any interest in reading at all.

Yet Hillerman is no Chandler. "Intellectuals" ("innerieckshuls," Flannery O'Connor called them) love Chandler, but I doubt if they number very many of Hillerman's fans, though I may be mistaken in that. Tony Hillerman is not, even in the best sense of the term, a literary novelist. He is neither a poet nor a...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here