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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman. New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1990 (first published by Harper & Row, 1973). No ISBN listed.

In this, the second of his Joe Leaphorn mysteries, Tony Hillerman takes a side jaunt into the Hopi Shalako religion. As his “Author's Note” states, “In this book, the setting is genuine. The Village of Zuñi and the landscape of the Zuñi reservation and the adjoining Ramah Navajo reservation are accurately depicted to the best of my ability. The characters are purely fictional. The view the reader receives of the Shalako religion is as it might be seen by a Navajo with an interest in ethnology. It does not pretend to be more than that.”

Nor does it need to. It is precisely this kind of attention to detail that makes Hillerman's books so fascinating to read and rewarding enough to reread from time to time. Throw in a well-plotted mystery, likable characters, and lots of local color, especially focusing on the magnificent landscapes of the “4-corners” region, and you've got a definite winner.

And what's not to like about a book whose dedication reads like this: “For Alex Atcitty and Old Man Madman and all the others who agree that Custer had it coming”? This, one of the earliest, and hence, one of the best of Hillerman's "Navajo country" mysteries is highly recommended for all readers, not just mystery fans, because to read a Hillerman mystery is to become a Hillerman fan. It's as simple as that.

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