We were lucky to glom onto Hillerman's first book as our introduction to his graphic depictions of Navaho life and geography. Set in the mesas and desert lands of New Mexico and Arizona (and a bit of Utah), we agree with the many reviewers who react to much of his stories as though they were travelogues. Indeed, the author's descriptions of the scenery and his illumination of this Native American culture were entertaining and informative, while reportedly extremely accurate and well informed.
His mystery writing skills, at least in 1970 when this novel was first published, seem a little tame by comparison. The murder of Luis Horseman gets the plot going, but the investigative role of the central character, Lt. Joe Leaphorn, of the Navaho Tribal Police, is frequently overshadowed by college professor Bergen McKee. McKee, engaged by a search for rumored witchcraft, more or less stumbles onto the likely bad guys "whodunit". His manly actions to protect a female companion and escape armed captivity are a little tough to believe. Moreover, the late chapter appearance by Leaphorn, to just wrap up everything with the tidiest possible ribbons, left us feeling a little shallow about the book's craft and cohesiveness.
Hillerman has a loyal following and has published over a dozen of these stories to date. While his settings create their own interest, it is not likely his plots are as complex as more current modern writers might typify. We expect Hillerman's work will either tend to please or disappoint -- but the domination of Southwestern imagery and culture should allow most readers to make an informed choice.