Skeleton Man – Tony Hillerman

When I moved to New Mexico for the first time in 1989, I was given everything that Tony Hillerman had written up to that point as a way to introduce me to some aspects of the cultural differences between New Mexico and Texas.  It didn’t take long before I was hooked.  His books magnificently achieved his goal of “show[ing] that aspects of ancient Indian ways are still very much alive and are highly germane even to our ways.”  As a general rule, they are also darn good mysteries set in some of the most beautiful, and desolate, country in America which Hillerman describes better than anyone else.

Hillerman’s style is also highly readable and it rarely takes me more than a couple of days to make my way through one of his novels.   Skeleton Man is the second-to-last novel he wrote before his death in 2008.  Proving that even an author as talented as Hillerman was had times where he was off his game, I wasn’t all that impressed with this one.  As many of his novels do, this one featured both of his signature characters, Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.  The mystery wasn’t that compelling and I got the sense that he was wrestling with what to do with Leaphorn who has retired from the Navajo Tribal Police.  While he probably presents a pretty accurate portrayal of retirement struggles, it wasn’t very satisfying to read.  Nonetheless, I will certainly pick up his final novel, The Shape Shifter, in short order and I will probably revisit many of his earlier works now that more than 20 years have passed since I was first introduced to them.

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