After adding *Sacred Clowns* to his "Navajo mysteries" series, Hillerman stepped out of the milieu to write a novel best forgotten, *Finding Moon*, about the fall of Saigon. Sadly, when he returned to the series, something was lost, and the books since have felt almost as if they were being ghost-written for him.
*Sacred Clowns* is the last of the best of these books. Set at the fictional "Hano" Pueblo, it explores history, religion, and antiquities, weaving together environmental issues, intertribal rivalries, and a good, solid story with interesting characters. Chee and Leaphorn are dealing with their respective personal problems, and both stories move forward in promising ways.
This is not the best of the series. That honor goes to *A Thief of Time*, because Hillerman got it all right and it dazzles. It's not the most representative. That would be *Skinwalkers*, I think, and hence its selection for the first Hillerman Mystery Theatre production this fall. And it's not my favorite; that would be *Coyote Waits*, with its surprise ending that brings home the potential for tragedy on the reservation better than any mainstream novel I've read.
But it is a good, solid book, entertaining, educational, densely plotted and well written. Of the books added to the series since, the lastest, *The Wailing Wind*, finally suggests that Hillerman is getting back on track, but if you are new to this remarkable and exciting set of novels, begin with one of the three I've recommended above, then, if you like that, go back to the first or second novel and read your way forward. By the time you jump the gully of *Finding Moon*, you will be prepared to forgive some tiredness in the stories that come after.
Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee will be gone eventually, like Thomas Perry's wonderful Jane Whitefield. I will miss them.
For a complete discussion of the "Indian mystery" genre, check my web site.