Tag Archives: mystery novels

“Talking Mysteries – A Conversation with Tony Hillerman” by Tony Hillerman and Ernie Bulow

Tony Hillerman (1925 – 2008) is one of my favorite authors. His books prove that novels and mysteries need not be placed in two separate categories. I can’t define “literature”, but I know it when I read it.

Talking Mysteries was published in 1991, when Hillerman was about halfway through his eighteen book Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee mystery series. He had already received the award he valued most, the Special Friends of the Dineh from the Navajo Nation Council. 

Talking Mysteries is the kind of book publishers throw together when they realize they have a winner in their midst. A few interviews, a short story. Some commentary… 

Who was Ernie Bulow? A man of many trades (including trader), he wrote (including a book called Navajo Taboos and two other books of “conversations”) , taught and practiced the arts of photography and silver smithing.

The icing on this cake is a set of sketches from Navajo artist Ernest Franklin, who illustrated some of Hillerman’s novels. On line, I found the even more exciting paintings by Franklin. My thanks to Parrish Books for the thumbnail image reproduced above.

Hillerman was a prolific writer, and we are fortunate he wrote an autobiography called Seldom Disappointed: A Memoir seven years before his death. I recommend it highly. 

Advertisement

“Away with the Fairies” and “Unnatural Habits”, Phrynne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood

Away with the Fairies (Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Book 11)

My concentration was greatly impaired by the onset of the Corona pandemic, so I didn’t charge through these books as fast as I normally would. But they were great fun and provided the distraction I needed. Phrynne Fisher is entertaining, and Greenwood has assembled a robust collection of supporting characters.

Greenwood is an Australian author with a law degree and thirty or more books to her credit, of which I have read half a dozen. Recurring themes are feminism and social justice. In Unnatural Habits, Greenwood takes on the Catholic church. Unlike most writers in the mystery genre, her books include bibliographies, which is good because some plotlines strain credulity, and it’s worthwhile to learn what stimulated Greenwood’s imagination.

Unnatural Habits also includes an Afterword, in which she describes her uncanny personal experience in a convent she used as a setting. On its grounds, “…I walked into the most dreadful concentrated suicidal despair I have ever felt. Someone had stood at that window and really wanted to die. I ran.” How many authors share something like THAT?! Out of curiosity, I Googled Abbotsford Convent, now a conference/cultural center. It looks decidedly unhaunted, and is sorrowfully announcing temporary closure due to Corona virus. But where are the nuns? Not a habit in sight!

Ms Greenwood also writes Young Adult novels and science fiction. I’ll give them a try.

“The Tale Teller” by Anne Hillerman

The Tale Teller is subtitled “A Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito Novel”. Hillerman catches my attention so quickly and completely that I ignore the pings of my cell phone. (This is saying a great deal.)

Like her deceased father Tony Hillerman, who started writing his Navajo mystery novels in 1970, Ms. Hillerman writes about a few characters who start to seem like old friends. The trio featured in this book are familiar.

These books delve into various aspects of Navajo life. In The Tale Teller, history is crucial. The cultural element of witchcraft is also explored. What did it mean in the past? What does it mean to the contemporary characters we meet, who live in the dual worlds of reservation life and 21st century America?

All this is seamlessly woven into an exciting police procedural/mystery. Don’t miss it!

“Spider Woman’s Daughter” and “Rock With Wings” by Anne Hillerman

Spider Woman's Daughter (A Leaphorn and Chee Novel)Rock with Wings (A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel)

I’m very happy to say that Anne Hillerman lives up to the standard set by her much-published father, Tony Hillerman. Ms Hillerman adopted her father’s characters (Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito) to write more mysteries set in the Navaho Nation located around the Four Corners area of the American Southwest.

Tony Hillman, who died in 2008, was exceptional because he wrote about Navaho life from an insider’s perspective, though he had no native blood. He also left behind a wonderful autobiography, Seldom Disappointed.

Spider Woman’s Daughter focused on tribal police officer Bernadette Manuelito, wife of Jim Chee. Chee had been forced to chose between Navaho life and “mainstream” America. Still finding their way, the couple has come down close to traditional Navaho life.

Anne Hillman’s first two novels are brisk and appealing, and she has published two more since Rock with Wings came out in 2015. Her writing background is in journalism, and she doesn’t waste words. I hope she keeps writing. I visited the Southwest many years ago, and hope to get back there before too long.

“The Cold Moon” by Jeffery Deaver – goodbye to this author

I reviewed Deaver’s The Burning Wire in December and gave three of his books to a friend for Christmas. My friend said he enjoyed them, but mentioned that one (I think it was The Bone Collector, 1997) was “too gritty” for him, the first time he ever mentioned that problem to me. (We are talking about a man who averages four to six books a week, of all sorts.)

I started to read The Cold Moon (published 2006) and had the same reaction. Deaver’s psychopaths are terrifying. So, despite my interest in his characters and enjoyment of his writing, The Cold Moon has been relegated to my giveaway pile. I’ve only got a limited amount of brain space. Why waste it on fictional ugliness?

Recommendations for other mystery writers will be gratefully received! Sci fi, as well.