Saturday, November 08, 2008

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman

Dance Hall of the DeadThe Book of the Week is Tony Hillerman's Dance Hall of the Dead (1973), in honor of Mr. Hillerman, who passed away last week at the age of 83. Tony Hillerman was a decorated combat veteran of World War II, a successful journalist for some 15 years, a professor at the University of New Mexico for over 20 years and, my godparents tell me, a great guy to play poker with. But he will always be best remembered as the author of the Leaphorn and Chee mysteries. Hillerman penned 18 novels following Leaphorn and Chee, Navajo tribal police officers. These books were excellent mysteries, but perhaps even more important for their insights into Native American culture.

This is the first paperback printing of Dance Hall of the Dead, which won the Edgar Award for best mystery novel of the year, the first of Hillerman's many awards, including being named "Grand Master" by the Mystery Writers of America in 1989. Second in Hillerman's series of Navajo mysteries, Dance Hall of the Dead starred Joe Leaphorn, but Jim Chee hadn't come along yet. The Leaphorn and Chee mysteries have been adapted to film in The Dark Wind (which starred Lou Diamond Phillips and was widely disliked by Hillerman fans) and to television in three feature-length movies in the PBS series Mystery! (generally better received).

Hillerman did write a few books outside the Leaphorn and Chee series, but I don't believe he ever wrote any science fiction or fantasy (although one could argue that some of the Leaphorn and Chee books have a fantasy element, since they involve reports of Navajo witchcraft or ghosts). Next week's Book of the Week will honor a recently departed author who regularly hit the best-seller lists even though he did write science fiction.

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