Monday, October 27, 2008

R.I.P. Tony Hillerman

When Tony Hillerman died at 83 yesterday in Albuquerque, I lost a mentor.

Hillerman's mysteries, set in Navajo country and respectfully reflecting Navajo culture, are not mindlessly plot-driven, as so many whodunits are today, but deeply rooted in both character and setting. A good mystery story is about much more than cops and murder.

Whenever I got stuck writing a scene in one of my own mysteries, I often would pull a Hillerman down from the shelf and reread it, looking for inspiration. Sometimes just a description of the sky over the Four Corners, or a casual remark by one of Hillerman's heroes Joe Leaphorn or Jim Chee, would get me unstuck.

In today's New York Times, Marilyn Stasio, that newspaper's nonpareil mystery critic, does a splendid obituary whose length -- surprisingly hefty for an assessment of a commercial storyteller -- does justice to both the man and the writer.

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