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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman

The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman. New York: Harper Paperbacks, 1990. Originally copyright, 1970. No ISBN listed.

This is at least the second, perhaps the third time I've read The Blessing Way. Tony Hillerman's mysteries, especially those set in the Navajo country, are worth reading and re-reading. The trick is to leave several years in between each reading, by which time the specific details will no longer be fresh in your mind, and it's almost as good the second time around as before.

And this is the very first of the Joe Leaphorn mysteries. Leaphorn is an officer of the Navajo Tribal Police. In these early stories, especially, Hillerman makes wonderful use of Native American “ethnological material” as he calls it in a brief author's acknowledgment. “The Blessing Way” is the name of a traditional Navajo “sing,” or healing ritual involving sand painting, singing, chanting, and other ceremonial rituals. But is is also a description of the way a true Navajo will live, with his or her life in harmony with all around, whether other people, animals, the land and the environment itself.

When things get out of harmony, traditional Navajo belief can attribute problems to witchcraft, and in this story we have someone taking advantage of that belief. While I wouldn't go quite as far as Ursula LeGuin, who is quoted as saying, “The only mysteries I read are Hillerman's,” I do come close. There are only a handful of mystery authors whose work I look forward to and read automatically, and to whose books I come back again and again. Hillerman is definitely one of them. Highly recommended.

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