The Blessing Way

When it comes to crime fiction I have to admit a preference for British and European writers. I think I’ve generally made an assumption (without any evidence, I should add) that European crime fiction tends to me more psychological, more complex in terms of its narrative twists and generally more sophisticated writing, whereas American crime fiction is more action-based and formulaic in its structure. I don’t know why I thought that – possibly more to do with TV crime dramas than anything else – and it’s probably sheer prejudice on my part. After all I have in the past read and enjoyed Chandler and Hammett. So I was quite intrigued when Tony Hillerman was recommended to me by Professor Richard Bauman of Indiana University, who was staying with us for a while just before Easter.

Hillerman is not well-known in the UK and his books are not easy to find in the bookshops, although I’m told the opposite is the case in the States. Anyway, I decided to start with the first in his series of novels about detective Joe Leaphorn. Starting at the beginning no doubt has its advantages, but The Blessing Way is a novel that was first published in 1970, and the writing seems to have dated somewhat. Having said that, what is the most interesting thing about this novel is its background of Navaho culture, which provides both the context and the rationale for the narrative. I understand that Hillerman (not a Navaho himself) is highly respected by the Navaho community for his knowledge about Navaho culture and this is undoubtedly a facsinating aspect of The Blessing Way. If anything the book sometimes wears this knowledge rather too unsubtely and self-consciously at times and it can get in the way of the narrative. But it was this that kept me reading more than anything else. I have to say that I found the plot a little bland and predictable, but there was enough in its portrayal of Navaho culture to recognise that Hillerman is an intelligent writer and worth perservering with. I have another of his books on my shelf waiting to be read and I shall certainly look forward to reading it (and one or two more as well) before coming to a final judgement.

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