Although A Thief of Time is built on the framework of the detective story, it is essentially a novel of characterization, a portrayal of the values and complex development of two Navajo tribal policemen, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. The remaining cast of characters is subordinate to the portrayal of the two major characters, underscoring the fact that the novel’s action derives from character.
Joe Leaphorn is a modern Navajo who functions as a mediator between cultures—comfortable with the ways of the dominant white culture, pragmatic, a bit skeptical and cynical about taboos (he does not believe in witches or evil ghosts), yet steeped in tribal traditions and at home in the Southwestern landscape. He accepts the basic metaphysical thrust of Navajo culture: hozho, the Beautyway, which implies harmony, cosmic orderliness, and the interdependency of nature and the Navajo people. Crime, therefore, is disharmony, disorder, a social and spiritual aberration. Keenly analytical, Leaphorn seeks the underlying pattern of events. His quest to solve the mystery of Friedman-Bernal’s disappearance by connecting intricate links becomes a complex metaphor for his need to restore social and spiritual order, not only to his jurisdiction but also to himself as he recovers from his grief over his wife Emma’s death. Leaphorn’s movement from despondent apathy to a reawakened curiosity and an appetite for life forms part of a pattern that includes his...
(The entire section is 500 words.)