A warmly old-fashioned reminiscence from the dean of the American regional mystery.
Blessed are those who expect little, said Hillerman’s mother; they are seldom disappointed. But the reason her son is seldom disappointed, as he’s at pains to point out, is that undeserved good things keep happening to him. His Oklahoma mom, whom he calls “the hero of this book,” allows him to enlist in the infantry even though he’s entitled to an exemption as the last son of a farm wife widowed the day after Pearl Harbor. He survives WWII with a Bronze Star; some of his friends deserved far more. He climbs the journalistic ladder in Santa Fe, then enjoys teaching and administrative jobs at the University of New Mexico for 15 years before leaving to become a full-time novelist. When it turns out that he and his wife Marie can have only one child, they’re able to adopt five more. His Navajo mystery A Thief of Time, published 20 years after an agent advised him to “get rid of the Indian stuff,” becomes a breakout bestseller for reasons he still can’t fathom. Hillerman’s self-made-success story does have its limitations. He’s weak on dates, selective on inclusions (surprisingly little on his childhood, though a great deal on his war service; virtually nothing on the 1980s or the wife he obviously adores, but some shrewd analysis of his own fiction, some of it tucked into an Addendum), and incapable, for better or worse, of saying an unkind word about anybody, even corporate bodies, without changing their names (though his account of trying to work the Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee series for TV is priceless).
No abusive childhood, no paying of old scores, no juicy gossip, and very little revelation of anyone but the deeply decent author, who’s constantly interrupting his chatty stream of anecdotes to say one more nice thing about somebody else.