By Stephanie Mack and Sophie Ell
In Hillerman’s 1980 novel PEOPLE OF DARKNESS, Jim Chee pursues a lead that takes him to Crownpoint Elementary School, the location of the Crownpoint Navajo Rug Auction. Leaving the parking area, which is full of older Plymouths and Fords, to enter the school’s auditorium, Chee is confronted by the familiar smells “of cooking fry bread, floor wax, blackboard chalk, stewing mutton and red chile, of raw wool, of horses, and of humans.”
“Hillerman Country” has long been a familiar term among the digital portal’s fellows, New Mexico residents, and fans all over the world. It evokes the canyons and mesas of the Navajo Reservation and the northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona high desert landscapes, but anyone who has read a Hillerman mystery knows that when the sun goes down on the enchanted terrain a different kind of scenery emerges, one that requires a raising of the gaze upwards.
As summer advances toward the solstice in late June, we on the Hillerman team are mentally projecting our bodies out into the terrain that our imaginations roam, thanks to Tony Hillerman. Although a significant portion of Hillerman’s Navajo detective series occurs in urban environments around the U.S., what the novels are best known for is their evocation of Southwest landscapes, landscapes into which he and his wife Marie would disappear whenever he encountered writer’s block.
Last summer, I had the pleasure of working on Hillerman’s third novel in his Navajo detective series,LISTENING WOMAN, and this semester, I have been in the throes of THE DARK WIND, the fifth novel in the series.