A Thief of Time

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When L.D. Thatcher, a Bureau of Land Management law enforcement officer, calls on his old friend Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn to help him investigate the theft of artifacts from an Anasazi site, he is motivated by two reasons. Joe Leaphorn is a detective whose powers of analysis have made him a local legend, and he is a friend who is suffering from the apathy of deep grief over the death of his wife. When it turns out that the suspected thief, Dr. Eleanor Friedman-Bernal, has been missing for almost a week, Leaphorn finds himself confronted with a puzzle composed of seemingly random events. The puzzle begins to tickle Leaphorn’s analytical mind, his Navajo mind that knows all things are linked, that there are no effects without causes, that even the wing of the corn beetle alters the course of the wind. The puzzle becomes more complicated when Leaphorn runs into Officer Jim Chee at a revival meeting conducted by a Navajo evangelist, Slick Nakai, who saves souls and occasionally fences Anasazi artifacts.

Chee, who has a penchant for trouble and for irritating his superior, Captain Largo, is tracking down the theft of a flatbed trailer and forklift from a tribal storage yard for which Chee was responsible. Chee discovers that the backhoe has been stolen by a white man named Joe Nails and a “Jesus Way” Navajo, Jimmy Etcitty. Chee’s stolen backhoe case becomes an investigation of multiple murder when Chee finds Nails and Etcitty murdered near an Anasazi grave site that they were robbing for artifacts. In an effort to find out more about how Nails and Etcitty were disposing of their stolen goods, Chee searches out the ubiquitous Slick Nakai and meets Leaphorn, who has discovered that Dr. Friedman-Bernal bought an occasional pot from Nakai, purchasing only special pots, pots decorated with the image of Kokopelli, the flute-playing fertility god of the Anasazi. These two Navajo policemen (separate protagonists in Hillerman’s other novels) reluctantly pool their efforts to solve the murders and find the missing Dr. Friedman-Bernal.

Leaphorn and Chee embark on an investigative odyssey that takes them...

(The entire section is 868 words.)