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Appreciation: Tony Hillerman knew New Mexico

"When I heard that Tony Hillerman had died Sunday at 83, I felt that stone-heaviness of grief, as if he were a beloved great-uncle. I felt regret, like I'd never gotten to say goodbye or even offer a thank you for all that he gave me. Gone was a positive influence in my life, someone who had helped me grow up and become a writer.

Considering that I never actually met Hillerman, this needs some explaining.

As a teenager growing up in rural New Mexico, I'd hole up with "The Blessing Way" or "The Dance Hall of the Dead," pretending to be sick to escape the misery of high school and spend the day instead with Lt. Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police.

My mother probably realized I was faking but she, too, was a huge Hillerman fan; besides, she likely thought I'd learn more about grammar, anthropology, history and logic by reading than sitting in a classroom. Over the years, I must have read both those books half a dozen times.

They, of course, are just good old nail-biting whodunits, but even when I knew how the stories ended, I enjoyed going back and revisiting the world-weary Leaphorn, seeing scenes play out in my head, trying to figure out where exactly Hillerman slipped in the first clue to the murder. In Hillerman's books, I found more than entertainment; I found reassurance that someone else had the same experience of the world as I did."

Get the Story:
Samantha Dunn: Tony Hillerman knew New Mexico (The Los Angeles Times 10/29)

More Praise:
Editorial: Tony Hillerman lived what he authored (The Farmington Daily Times 10/29)

Related Stories:
Navajos grateful for Hillerman's focus on culture (10/28)
Tony Hillerman, award-winning author, dies at 83 (10/27)