Tony Hillerman is an author I have been meaning to read ever since I first found out a bit more about him a couple of years ago. I even got out his debut, THE BLESSING WAY, from the library last year, but it was returned (overdue) unread, because I had far too many new books to read and review. So when I was in a second-hand store while visiting my old hometown of Richmond, Nelson last week, searching for lesser-known Kiwi crime, I also ended up buying a copy of A THIEF OF TIME.
I've always been fascinated by Native American culture, and I spent a couple of weeks touring around Utah, Nevada and Arizona in August-September 2006, and really enjoyed the region, so the thought of reading mystery novels set in that world was very enticing.
Hillerman's eighth novel, A THIEF OF TIME (1988) begins at a moonlit Indian ruin—where "thieves of time" ravage sacred ground in the name of profit. A noted anthropologist vanishes while on the verge of making a startling, history-altering discovery. Then at an ancient burial site, amid stolen goods and desecrated bones, two corpses are discovered, shot by bullets fitting the gun of the missing scientist. There are modern mysteries buried in despoiled ancient places. And as blood flows all too freely, Navajo Tribal Policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee must plunge into the past to unearth an astonishing truth and a cold-hearted killer.
I really enjoyed A THIEF OF TIME, and was glad I'd finally got around to reading a book by Hillerman. He evokes the contemporary Southwestern USA setting very well; you can see and feel the desert setting, with its rocky buttes jutting from dusty earth. A THIEF OF TIME reads a little bit more like an 'old-fashioned' mystery novel in terms of its pacing; it's not a page-whirring, action-packed tale like many contemporary crime novels. But it was absorbing, and intriguing, and had me wondering throughout.
The duo of Leaphorn and Chee are very interesting protagonists, both in terms of each of their characters and the interaction between the pair. I can easily see why they are some of the favourite detectives of several crime fiction fans I've spoken to. Hillerman creates some depth and intrigue in his characters, as well as the mystery plotline.
All in all a very enjoyable read, that had a slightly slower pace than many modern-day big-name bestsellers, but has me putting Hillerman, Leaphorn and Chee into my 'must read more of them' category.
This book was read and reviewed for Dorte Jakobsen's excellent 2010 Global Reading Challenge.
It also represents 'New Mexico' in my USA Fiction Challenge