Dance Hall of the Dead is a sad story. It concerns the murder or disppearance of two boys, a Navajo and a Zuni, and Joe Leaphorn's efforts to find the missing boys. The riddle is entwined with Zuni religious ceremonies which Leaphorn, a Navajo, tries to understand.
Hillerman gives a virtual travelogue of the Zuni and Navajo country of New Mexico and Arizona in the early 1970s when the book was written. Leaphorn is a thoroughly likeable hero, rational, even-tempered, and ethical with a compulsion to get to the bottom of things. Hillerman is a master of creating an exotic atmosphere of Zuni and Navajo culture and ceremonies overlaid by the splendor of the natural setting. With such ornament, it hardly matters that the solution to the mystery itself is not very convincing.
What a great title! If you're a wide-open-spaces-kind-of-a-person Hillerman is unbeatable as a mystery writer with a western twist. In Joe Leaphorn he has created a fictional detective who can take his place among the all-time best.