Hillerman Country

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Those who admire the novels of Tony Hillerman (and that is no small number) won’t be surprised to learn that he has composed a clear and beautiful textual portrait of the country that he knows best— that portion of the Southwestern United States which includes much of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. Hillerman fans won’t be surprised because this country is, after all, the setting of the popular Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn mystery series for which he is best known.

Tony Hillerman clearly loves his country, and reading this book is more than a little like traveling the landscape with a knowledgeable friend as a guide. And while this book will appeal to anyone who loves finely drawn images of a land and its people, those already familiar with Hillerman’s books will be especially attracted to the author’s reflections on the places and events that have inspired much of his work. He tells of the September day he stood in the awesome beauty of Canyon de Chelly in northern Arizona and imagined a situation that was later to become the basis for his early novel THE BLESSING WAY; in the same vein, he describes floating the San Juan River and watching spadefoot toads, and how that evolved into a portion of the plot for A THIEF OF TIME.

This said, the book would seem a sure bet. However, a curious thing here is that the publisher of HILLERMAN COUNTRY was apparently not inclined to edit the work—that is, to edit the photographs and the captions to those photographs—and so has done a disservice to the author and the photographer, as well as to those who invest in this not inexpensive book.

While it’s true that most of the more than two hundred Hillerman photographs that illustrate the work are fine, this is clearly one of those cases where the finished book might have benefited greatly from an editor’s influence. One suspects that poor printing is to blame for many of the spotty, sometimes-out-of-focus, and often washed-out images, but it was not bad ink that allowed the all to frequent intrusion of misspelled words in the captions (Georgia O’Keeffe’s name, for example) and wrongly identified photos.

Certainly the Hillermans deserved better.