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4.4 out of 5 stars
A Thief Of Time
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Showing 1-7 of 7 reviews(4 star)show all reviews
on July 27, 2002
Blarg. I wrote my "Thief of Time" review under "Sacred Clowns" forgetting which book I was reviewing. So I'll keep this short. Thief of Time is often considered Hillerman's finest work in his Southwestern Mysteries, but I found it less satisfying than "Blessing Way" and "Sacred Clowns." In brief, Hillerman seemed to lose control of the book about halfway through and fell victim to the lazy writer's prop of killing a character to inject drama into the story. There were just too many deaths in this one and it contributed to a general lack of focus in the later chapters. And, as usual, I cared a great deal less about the Crime and the Criminals than Leaphorn and Chee. Hillerman's crooks and murderers just aren't fleshed out very well. The motivation in this case was an excellent one--but far too psychologically deep to hang on such a paper-thin character.
So there. I love reading Hillerman as much as the next man, but I'm not blind to his faults, the most prominent of which is on glaring display here--he has trouble with the resolutions to his stories, creating a deep, layered mystery, and then wrapping it up in an action movie style that just doesn't fit the earlier parts of his book.
RstJ
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on July 18, 2002
Hmmmmmmm . . . . . no reviews by anyone who claims to be one of the Dine, and therefore wants to analyze Hillerman on that basis.
Hillerman is a masterful story teller, and in this book brings a heavy load of social correctness into a typical mystery story. The central theme is the systematic looting of Native American sites on behalf of Anglos who are driven by greed for ancient artifacts. In this story, the greed has two faces; one is the monetary reward of finding and selling ancient artifacts for often vast sums of money, and the other is the greed for scholarly fame that is the reward for discovering new and sometimes shocking facts about Native Americans.
Would scholars be so crude ? Well, think of Regents Professor Christie G. Turner of Arizona State University who "proved" the ancestors of the Hopis and Zunis and other pueblo tribes were cannibals. It sure got him a lot of fame and attention.
Would pot hunters be so violent ? Having been trained as a site steward, a volunteer who checks known sites to deter looting, we were warned never to directly challenge anyone engaged in looting a site.
Put the two elements together, and you have the basis of the very plausible plot in this story. Then add the detective work of two Navajo Nation police officers, whose work often seems to be protecting the Navajos from the crimes of non-Navajos, and the result is a good story. Hillerman writes well, with a genuine affection for The People, but even at his best he's still an outsider looking at the intricacies of Navajo culture.
Who am I to judge Hillerman's portrayal of the Navajos ? Well, in my dealings with Navajo police officers, I found some to be much more introspective and analytical of differences between their culture and the outside world than Hillerman indicates. He also seems oblivious to the sharp and delightful Navajo sense of humor, perhaps because it is more subtle than the usual slapstick style of Anglo-American humor. He cites various clans, but doesn't seem to understand the sharp differences that sometimes exist among clans.
So, why read Hillerman ?
He's very worth reading because he offers a fine introduction to the People, and he is greatly honored among the Navajos for that reason. Some quibble over the authenticity of his facts - - - but there are equally vehement debates over the quality of fry bread from different parts of the Rez.
The fact is that Hillerman is a good writer. He offers a valued insight into Native American culture, which is an "Mulligan stew" of different beliefs, attitudes, values and opinions. Want a simple example of a major difference ?
In Anglo society, legal issues are resolved in the courts on the basis of confrontational arguments which produce a clear winner and loser -- called "Guilty or Innocent" -- a system based on jousting between champions chosen to represent the two sides in a dispute. In Navajo culture, the principle of Ke'e reflects a desire for consensus that seeks a harmonious resolution for all sides in a dispute. In addition to a legal system based on traditional Anglo law, the Navajos also have "Peacemaker" courts based on traditional Navajo values of consensus instead of confrontation.
Hillerman doesn't examine such subtleties; his stories are based on Anglo values of guilt and innocence, good and bad, truth and falsehood, right and wrong. A traditional Navajo, writing a similar book, would sympathize with the perpetrator as well as victim, as in the saying about never judging a person until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.
Yet, until such books are written -- think of a detective novel which ends in consensus instead of a clear designation of evil -- Hillerman will continue to rank among the best of Anglo views of Native American culture. Or, in terms of oriental culture, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Hillerman has taken a thousand steps in introducing outsiders to Native American culture -- but, it's worth remembering his stories are only a few steps in a long journey.
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on February 28, 2002
Tony Hillerman has created an extraordinary series with his tales of crime on the Navajo Reservations of New Mexico.
The books are unique for a number of reasons. The first is that there are two main characters, Joe Leaphorn, a senior investigator in the Navajo Police Force, and Jim Chee, the equivalent of a "patrolman" on the force. In some books, both make appearances, in some only on of them is on the scene.
Then there is the fact that Hillerman genuinely knows about both the nature and history of the Navajo Nation, both past and present. This lends an aura of authenticity and credibility to the novels that is consistently present throughout the series.
On top of all that, Hillerman understands and can effectively convey a realistic projection of actual criminal process and procedure.
Finally, Hillerman is able to portray the cultural dissonance that marks life on and around the reservation, both within the tribe as well as with relations of the tribe to the larger community without indulging in any sort of editorializing that would detract from the tale.
This was the first Hillerman novel I read, and while not quite up to the standards of his very best work, it's close. The story revolves around the plundering of Navajo burial treasures and an associated murder.
But, like all the Hillerman novels, it's not the details of the story that count-it's Hillerman's ability to transport us to another world within our world and make us at home there while telling a great story in a realistic and truly believable fashion.
If you have not treated yourself to some of the Navajo Nation series, you are really missing out on a real treat.
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This is the first Hillerman novel I picked up and it won't be my last. The story centres around the unexplained disappearance of an anthropologist who is suspected of being a 'thief of time' or pot hunter. While Lt. John Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee look for the missing person, recent dead bodies are discovered at plundered sites. It's up to Leaphorn and Chee to find out who's causing all this destruction before they find another body.
As an anthropology student, I liked Hillerman's detailed research and his obvious respect of the Navajo Nation. As a mystery reader, I liked the police story line and how it fit quite nicely with Hillerman's anthropological angle. Great read and I hope to read more from this exceptional author.
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on February 10, 2000
This may not be his best work (and I have read them ALL many times over), but it is nonetheless a good one. To me, the pleasure of reading Hillerman's Navajo police books is not so much in the storyline, as in his masterful and atmospheric rendering of the setting, culture, and characters. If one is purely a mystery buff, there are many other authors who may fashion a more intriguing or complicated plot. Very few, however, can capture the essence of place, time and motivation the way Hillerman does, and that is what, for me, makes his books a joy to read.
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on April 20, 1999
This book is truly a dandy. I love Hillerman's sense of mystery. The ending is iffy, but I like the storyline up to that point. I wish Hillerman would have spent more time on the ending and validity of his characters, but what can you do?
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on June 14, 2003
Lives up to all hillerman's books
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