Don’t Let Them Die
As an avid mystery reader, I am doubly pained when the author of a favorite series dies, because it means the loss not only of a much-loved writer, but of the characters he or she created.
I think of Edith Pargeter, writing as Ellis Peters, and her mystery series about Brother Cadfael, a medieval monk and detective. Pargeter wrote 20 Cadfael mysteries, in the process bringing to life a fascinating, deeply moving character—a good friend—who was more real to me than the author.
When Pargeter died in 1995, Cadfael seemed to die with her. All I could do to revive him was to reread the series, which I now have done twice and I’m sure will do again. If you try these books, you can help to breathe life back into Cadfael.
I might have said the same thing about Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, officers in the Navajo police force who were created by author Tony Hillerman. Hillerman wrote 18 mysteries featuring these two proud, wise, stubborn characters. When he died in 2008, Leaphorn and Chee flickered and threatened to disappear.
Then a wonderful thing happened. Anne Hillerman, Tony’s journalist daughter, decided to revive them. In consultation with her father’s editor, she tried writing a new book in the series. I was skeptical, thinking of other relatives who had tried with limited success to continue mystery series—notably Felix Francis for his father Dick, and Andrew Child for his brother Lee—but her first effort, Spider Woman’s Daughter, convinced me. Not only did she bring Tony’s characters back to life; she chose a third character from his world, Officer Bernadette Manuelito, and featured her alongside Leaphorn and Chee.
I hesitate to say it—surely the thought is sacrilege—but it seems to me that Anne’s novels, eight of them now, may be better than Tony’s. They are just a bit more complex, more lifelike, and less formulaic than her dad’s, wonderful though the originals may have been.
I’ve now read seven of Anne’s books. Sad at the thought of finishing, I’m saving the eighth. One day soon, I’ll settle into my favorite chair, turn on the light, and spend time again with my Navajo friends.
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Hillerman fans have a bonus coming up. Dark Winds, the excellent TV series based on Tony’s books, begins Season 2 later this month on AMC.