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Hagooónee, Tony Hillerman (1925-2008)

Tony Hillerman died yesterday of pulmonary failure. He was 83.

And I am among the legion of his readers who will miss his presence in this world--and I will greatly miss Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, the main characters in his mystery novels set among the Navajo in the American Southwest (that's Wes Studi and Adam Beach as the two above, in the first of three Robert Redford PBS films adapted from the novels). I can't remember how I stumbled upon these novels, but I've read all 18 of them--from The Blessing Way (197o) to the last one, The Shape Shifter (2006).

While most of the stories are good as mysteries alone, what really draws me to them is the world Hillerman brings alive. I appreciate Hillerman's exploration of both the beauty and problems associated with the Navajo culture. And in his themes, dialogues, questions and stories, it isn't hard to find both God-talk and issues that often invited me examine myself and my faith. Plus, I grew up in the Arizona deserts, which are among my most favorite places on this planet; these books are like a visit home.

But, as I read the headline announcing Hillerman's death, I realized what I love--and will miss--the most are the characters he created. Their stories are not finished, and I regret that I will not be able to visit them again, to explore anew the world and how we walk in it through their eyes and experiences as they grow and change over the years. When I mentioned this all to my husband, he observed that this sense of loss in losing touch with them is a lot like real life. I guess so.

Hagooónee*, Tony. And thank you.

*Goodbye in Navajo

(Images: from Skinwalkers DVD cover, PBS Pictures; Shape Shifter novel)

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