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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Thursday, October 02, 2003

The Sinister Pig by Tony Hillerman. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. ISBN: 006019443X.

I am not normally a big mystery reader; science fiction is my preferred genre for escapist entertainment. However there are a few mystery writers that I follow avidly, and Tony Hillerman is one of those. (Another is Dorothy Sayers, especially the Lord Peter Wimsey stories, but that’s another blog entry entirely.)

A new Hillerman novel is generally a signal for rejoicing. Especially if it features Navaho tribal policeman Sergeant Jim Chee and retired former Navaho police lieutenant Joe Leaphorn. We’ve been following the lives of these characters for well over a dozen books now, and this new title certainly advances the state of Chee’s love life, a perennial theme throughout the series.

But this book is somehow not as satisfying as usual. Major elements of the plot seem more appropriate to a John Grisham thriller than a Hillerman mystery. Traditional Native American culture and beliefs have little or no role in the plot or in the development of the story, to the book’s detriment. The crime is solved essentially from afar, with not much actual on-the-scene fieldwork.

And even the writing seems too glib, somehow. Right from the beginning, the book didn’t feel like a traditional Hillerman story. It seemed more like a James Bond style story crammed willy-nilly into a Hillerman setting, and much of it just wasn't convincing. I hate to even think it, let alone suggest it, but Hillerman’s rich vein of Native American influences may be played out. Let’s hope not.

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