March 23, 2005
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Skeleton Man

by Tony Hillerman

Hillerman, the premier writer of distinctively southwestern mysteries, tends to fall apart when called upon to write about Anglos and Easterners in the West. In Skeleton Man, we have a routine mystery that most of Hillerman's many imitators could easily have managed. Sure, it's engaging. It's nice to see Leaphorn again, it's pleasant to visit Officer Chee, and Bernie's a dear.

But we get the same pleasures from Spenser, Susan and Hawk each year as well, Parker's dialogue is snappier and his plotting is usually twistier.

Hillerman at his best is more ambitious and more important, and Hillerman's got to know that even white folk can be complex characters. I can understand pasteboard Anglos at the margins of a Navajo mystery, but if you're going to write about LA diamond brokers and Washington lobbyists and skip tracers from Oregon, why not take the trouble to make them characters instead of plot devices?