Tony Hillerman has died.
Through Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, his two most popular characters, Hillerman introduced much of America to the rich cultures of the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni peoples. He also provided an insight into the poverty, racism, and struggle that is the daily experience for many of them. And he did it without sounding preachy or pedantic. His admiration and respect were evident. His talent was undeniable. His books are a doorway to the Southwest.
I came late to the Hillerman book party, as is my wont. Dance Hall of the Dead was first published in 1973. A battered paperback copy was handed to me in 1987 by a pharmaceutical sales rep, with some condescension as I recall. Something to the effect of, 'you might be smart enough to enjoy this.' Much as I longed to hate the book after that, it was impossible. Dance Hall was a find, a gem, and remains one of my favorite Hillerman stories.
If you have not read Tony Hillerman's work, it is not too late to walk that particular spirit trail. Tony Hillerman is dead, but his stories carry his heart and soul. So the truth is, Tony Hillerman will never die. He has only shapeshifted.