Leaphorn and Chee by Tony Hillerman (HarperCollins, 1992), containing
A Thief of Time (1988)
Talking God (1989)
Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police solve crimes together, though in many of the books I've read so far, they work independently and only come together later in the book. It's an interesting change-up.
I'm making no attempt to read them all in order. I'd rather, but these three are not the initial books anyway, and there are many in the series that our library doesn't have, so I take what I can get. I've read a total of seven so far, and have thoroughly enjoyed every one. This means the events in the lives of the protagonists get rather jumbled, but each mystery is independently understandable and enjoyable.
What I like best: The excellent mysteries, of course, but after that I love learning more about the Southwest—a part of the country I've never even visited except for a brief trip to Arizona—and about Navajo culture.
What I like least: The stories are so wonderfully detailed, and told with what appears to be a high regard for the facts, and with cultural sensitivity, that it actually makes me worry just a little that I might be picking up some wrong ideas—because it sounds so trustworthy!
What surprises me: If you've read my previous reviews, you know I have a very low tolerance for bad language. Yet there is some in these books, and it doesn't bother me one bit. I wonder why, and though I'm only speculating at this point, it's probably a combination of factors:
- The use is very sparse, like the addition of a little spice to a dish rather than a tablespoon of hot sauce.
- It appears appropriate to the characters and the situations.
- It is neither vicious nor puerile.
- The characters manage to use only the words I find least offensive, which when you think about it is quite an accomplishment, considering that I really, really dislike "OMG," which most of America can't seem to get along without.
What puzzles me: Part of the charm of the books is the traditional Navajo culture, and while I find it interesting as history, I can't understand the attitude—which is certainly not limited to these books—that "real" Native American culture is what it was in the distant past. Cultures grow, they evolve, they blend, yet to many people to be "traditional" means one must revert to practices frozen at a particular point in time
A Christian Navajo, for example, seems to be considered an oxymoron, or at best a mongrel who has sold out to the white culture—as if Jesus had been born in England instead of in Israel. Are my Anglican beliefs a denial of my Puritan ancestors? Am I stuck with Calvinism because of the faith of my forebears? The couple of times I attended a real Native American Pow-Wow (albeit Seminole, not Navajo), this joyful celebration of their traditions was also unabashedly Christian. Surely it is possible to enjoy one's ancestral culture and yet differ with them on some points. Truth is independent of both culture and lineage.
Possibly—again, just speculating—when one's culture has been assaulted, and forcibly taken away instead of being allowed to evolve, people may feel the need to reboot, to rewind to the place where their culture was lost, before they can feel comfortable with any change.