Tony Hillerman Message Board
Johnny Guy posts on 12/9/2006 1:06:33 PM
My dear fellow Hillermaniacs,
I guess I'll be the first, and maybe the last person to mention The Shape Shifter, on this site. It sold well enough to move Tony into the #5 slot of the New York Times Best Seller List. So I know I’m not the only one who read it, unless everyone else’s copy is waiting for them under the Christmas tree.
I remember lounging in a bathtub (something I rarely had the opportunity to do while living on the Rez) reading my first Tony Hillerman book in 1974. It didn’t impact me much at the time, but over time, his books have come to mean a great deal to me, and obviously, to many other readers as well.
In TH’s previous book, Skeleton Man, its overall tone felt like melancholy nostalgia, with a tinge of regret thrown in for good measure. I was convinced we’d seen his last NPD book. I’m glad to see he still has one more in him. My sources tell me he still writes everyday.
TH’s two sleuths, often ask the question, why. Why was the crime committed. I found myself, after Skeleton Man, asking myself that same question. Why did Hillerman write that book? Was it for money? I suppose that making money (a process he equates to witchcraft) might be one factor. But I get the sense there’s much more on his mind than getting more of what he already has plenty of.
I see Shape Shifter as a continuation of Skeleton Man, in which for the first time, Tony departed from his formula-opening of a violent crime. Instead, he began with Joe Leaphorn, remembering. In Skeleton Man, a severed arm shackled to a diamond-filled briefcase, becomes the focus of a lost daughter. She chooses her father’s arm, over the diamonds. I believe this symbolized a legacy handed down from the author-father Tony, to his writing daughter Anne. Don’t follow in my footsteps, daughter, you have inherited the gift of my talent, find your own literary path.
I’m one of Hillerman’s fans who reads his books, not for the mysterious content, (something the Thurlos still don’t get) or simply for the theme of Navajo cosmology, but for Tony’s depiction of the human condition. His two main characters Joe and Jim, each grapple with their loneliness. Isolation is life’s most difficult challenge. Still, the greatest isolation is death. It is interesting to note, that for someone who opposes the death penalty, all of Hillerman’s Killers (sounds like a great title for an Alt Navajo Country Band) end up dying violently. The only murderer ever to escape that fate was a Navajo, Ashee Pinto, in Coyote Waits.
I drift, sorry. As Hillerman begins to burden Joe with the pains of age, he moves ever closer to a book he once described as “dreadful”, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. The father and the son. Papa Joe and sonny Jim.
I find myself wishing that he would trap Joe and Jim in some deep lost canyon on Navajo Mountain, snowed in for a few days. Someplace where they would have the time to talk, uninterrupted. To talk, not about another needless and contrived murder, but to become what Hillerman hinted at only once in Sacred Clowns (I think); that Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are spiritually father and son. The son rescuing the father as he recounts all those winter hogan stories that Joe missed while at boarding school.
I heard from a trusted source that TH spilled the beans at the Santa Fe Writer’s Workshop, which was held last month. Wes Studi asked Tony who his favorite character was. I was not surprised to hear that Mr. H chose Joe Leaphorn. It came as no greater surprise to learn that he slyly copped to the fact that Tony Leaphorn is Joe Hillerman, or visa versa, or something like that, anyway.
I found the dedication in The Shape Shifter, its most stunning feature. Unless I’m mistaken (and I assume that if I am, someone will correct me), it was the first time he’d mentioned his children on the “here’s to ya” page.
I finished The Shape Shifter, feeling down. I got the sense that Tony Hillerman is dying to tell us something, but it’s more than he’s emotionally willing to do. Because if he does, his own internal truth may be too much for him to look upon. Joe Leaphorn is going through the most difficult time of his life. He questions his own place in the world. Sooner or later, don’t we all?
I wish Mr. H, would share a little more of his insight with us, on how he endures that very difficult path. One, which if we are fortunate, awaits us all.
Johnny Guy posts on 1/3/2006 7:15:00 PM
Sounds like you're no stranger to Hillerman. Funny, I don't read any mysteries except for his. I believe his books are, in fact, little spiritual primers disguised as mysteries.
I'm wondering if he's going to be writing any more Leaphorn/Chee books. I had heard he has one planned about a cursed Navajo blanket, but have heard nothing more about it.
I have a suspicion that he's just about done with these two guys. The way he married Jim and Bernie off in a page, left me worried that he's through.
I hope not.
Are you still out there my old friend?
Eva Gengler posts on 1/3/2006 5:01:19 PM
Thanks, Johnny. It was "Sacred Clowns" and I opened it to the exact page I wanted.
Johnny Guy posts on 12/30/2005 10:40:09 AM
I believe you are referring to “Ernie is the Best” moment when Janet Pete finally falls for Jim Chee. I think, without checking I might add, that this is contained in Sacred Clowns. Ashlee would be able to confirm.
Eva Gengler posts on 12/17/2005 8:55:55 PM
Does anyone know what novel had a sub-plot of a hit-and-run driver? Jim Chee tracked him down, something about it leading to the offender who had a disabled or developmentally disabled grandchild. I need a quote from that book.
Randall posts on 5/25/2005 8:14:43 PM
I've always wanted to get an autographed photo of Tony Hillerman. Does anyone know how this one be obtained?
I had the impression that Skeleton Man was Hillerman's last installment of the Leaphorn/Chee mysteries. As I said in the posting below, it looked to me like the author was tying up a few loose ends concerning his two heroes. I gather that Karan believes there's another book in the works. Is there any evidence of this?
Karan posts on 5/25/2005 6:22:02 PM
Tony, I enjoy your books so much that the only mysteries I read are yours.
Please tell me when the next book is
due for release. I know that you can't rush a great thing but I read them as fast as you put them out. I had a collection but when I moved, someone conveniently "lost" all my Hillerman's so I've started again but I am current.
Thank you for the time, detail and effort you put into these books it makes a big difference. God be with you!
Randall posts on 5/20/2005 5:46:57 PM
Is that what "SKELETON MAN is? It sure looks that way: Leaphorn truly seems to be retired from detecting and confining himself to good-ol'-boy chatter around the restaurant table, while Chee and Bernadette Manuelito finally have tied the knot. So we're told. And we weren't even invited to the wedding!
Helen posts on 5/20/2005 2:51:19 PM
I am reading "A Thief of Time," and I have a question about Emma's death. Joe Leaphorn is told about her death in a surgical waiting room, which led me to think she died from complications during her initial brain surgery. But then Leaphorn also tells us that she developed an infection that caused the complications that led to her death. Does that mean that she developed an infection after her first surgery, and then needed another operation?
Jana posts on 5/4/2005 5:51:00 PM
The name of the book you're looking for is called "Seldom Disappointed." It's also available in an audio version read by Mr. Hillerman. It was interesting to hear him tell his own story. Actually, I liked it because he sounds like my dad, also an Okie.
Good luck with your assignment.
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