I'm not sure why I got to thinking about Tony Hillerman today. One thing I am sure of: It had nothing to do with Thanksgiving.
Or maybe it did. In our family, it's customary for folks to sit around and read during the holidays, and for some years it was pretty likely that one of us (at least) was reading the latest Tony Hillerman mystery.
Hillerman (1925-2008) was the author of a number of novels that take place in and around the Navajo reservation in New Mexico/Arizona border area. The stories featured Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, officers in the tribal police; all the stories featured Hillerman's fastidious research and knowledge of Navajo history, lore, and current situations. (Here's a link to his obit in the New York Times.)
I forget how I learned about the Hillerman series--probably from one of my brothers, fellow voracious consumers of mysteries. But once I read the first one (which one was it?), I devoured each of its successors while the printer's ink was still wet. And I was rarely, if ever, disappointed.
The first reference to Hillerman in my journal is from July 1998: to Learned Owl [book shop in Hudson], where I bought the new Tony Hillerman (The First Eagle) with the remainder of my gift certificate
I'm not sure why I had a gift certificate (?)--not near my birthday or other event--but it's clear from that entry that I'd already been reading him. I just checked our "Hillerman shelf," and it seems the earliest I read was The Fallen Man, published in 1996; my handwritten note in the front says "12/96." But perhaps I was reading him earlier; some titles, I know, I read in paperback, which I subsequently discarded and/or replaced with the cloth-cover edition. Anyway, I didn't begin keeping a regular journal until January 1997, so my "genesis story" with Hillerman is lost in the fog of time.
I met him once--quite by surprise and accident. It was Friday, June 5, 2004. My brief journal entry:
... in the evening, we went to West Market, had dinner at Panera; then I walked down to B&N and stumbled on Tony Hillerman, who was signing his KSU book of WW II photos
Yes, in 2004, Hillerman published Kilroy Was There: A GI's War in Photographs with the Kent State University Press.
As my journal entry indicates, I had not known he was scheduled to be out at the Barnes & Noble on W. Market Street; otherwise, of course, I would have loaded a (big) shopping bag with all of his titles to have him sign.
So it goes in the book-collecting business.
I remember talking with him briefly about World War II--telling him that my dad had been both in Europe and the South Pacific. He said, "I bet he didn't talk about it much, did he?"
"No. Virtually never."
"That's true of so many WW II vets," he said.
And off I went, thinking I'd catch him at another signing one of these days. Which, of course, I didn't.