Category Archives: Tony Hillerman

To See the Total Eclipse of the Sun*

Yesterday (as this is posted), the US was treated to that astronomical rarity: a total solar eclipse. Scientists took full advantage of the opportunity to study that phenomenon, and so did teachers and professors and their classes. And, of course, millions of people watched the big event in a more casual way.

The more we learn about science, the better we understand phenomena such as eclipses. Still, there’ve also been some fascinating non-scientific explanations, too. And what’s just as interesting (at least to me) is that plenty of societies still have those other beliefs woven in somehow, even as they also embrace more scientific approaches to explaining things.

In real life, there are certainly misunderstandings about eclipses that almost resemble those more ancient beliefs. And that’s true even in today’s world, where the latest scientific developments are easily accessible for a lot of people. For instance, E.C. Krupp, Director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, says the observatory gets plenty of calls from people asking whether the eclipse presents a danger to pregnant women or their unborn children. We see that juxtaposition of older beliefs and more modern understanding in crime fiction, too. And that can add interest to a story, as well as insight into a culture.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, Hercule Poirot is taking what he thinks will be a simple holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. He gets involved in a murder case when fellow hotel guest, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall, is killed. At first, her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, seems to be the most likely suspect, but he’s soon proven to have a solid alibi. So, Poirot and the police have to look elsewhere for the killer. At one point, there’s an interesting conversation about different ancient beliefs of the area (Devon); one of them is belief in pixies. In fact, even as recently as this novel, people still tell stories about them.

Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee is a member of the Navajo Nation, as well as a member of the Navajo Tribal Police. He certainly accepts modern science, and has a university education. But at the same time, he is a spiritual person who, for a time, studies to be a Navajo singer/healer. And he’s not alone in accepting both modern science and traditional Navajo beliefs. In Skinwalkers, for instance, we are introduced to Bahe Yellowhorse. He’s a doctor who runs the Badwater Clinic. He is also known as a ‘crystal gazer,’ who uses traditional ways to diagnose and treat patients. Interestingly, he uses both approaches to healing to work with patients, directing them to whichever paths to healing work for them. When the Badwater Clinic becomes the focus of a murder investigation, Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn get to know Yellowhorse, and we learn how he tries to balance different views of medicine.

Colin Cotterill’s series featuring Dr. Siri Paiboun takes place in 1970s Laos. Dr. Siri is Laos’ only medical examiner, and as such, he is expected to use modern science to explain phenomena that he finds. And he does. Even though his equipment is outdated and he doesn’t have access to all of the modern technology available, he does believe in the scientific method. And he uses it to solve mysteries. However, there are deep spiritual traditions in Laos that go back thousands of years, and Dr. Siri is aware of them, too. And some of those traditions find their way into his perspective and experiences. What’s more, those more ancient explanations for phenomena reflect the way the people of Laos have thought for a long time. So, despite the current government that insists on atheism and disparages ancient beliefs, Dr. Siri finds that those less prosaic beliefs play an important role in what he does.

They do in the world of Tarquin Hall’s Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri, too. He’s a PI who lives and works in Delhi. Puri believes in science and in scientific explanations for things, although he has a spiritual side. But he also understands that there are other ways of looking at the world. For example, much of the ‘bread and butter’ of his business is ‘vetting’ potential spouses for his clients’ children and grandchildren. So, he sees a lot of what goes into choosing a partner. And one aspect of that choice, for a lot of people, is astrology. It’s believed that successful marriages are at least in part the result of compatible horoscopes. That ancient tradition leads many people to cast horoscopes of promising partners before they do anything else. It’s an interesting case of people who study, contribute to, and believe in science, but who still have ancient explanations woven into their cultures.

And then there’s Fred Vargas’ Seeking Whom He May Devour. In that novel, which takes place in the French Alps, the residents of Ventebrune and Pierrefor are upset when nine sheep are discovered with their throats slashed. At first, it’s believed that a wolf is responsible, and that’s dangerous enough. But then, a sheep breeder named Suzanne Rosselin is found murdered in one of her sheep pens, killed the same way as the sheep. Now, despite modern beliefs in science and in forensics, whispers start that all of this is the work of a werewolf. In fact, those who believe that say that the werewolf is a loner called Auguste Massart, who’s gone missing. Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg travels to the Alps to investigate. As you can guess, there isn’t a werewolf involved. But it’s interesting to see how those ancient beliefs and explanations survive alongside modern science.

Phenomena such as eclipses are fascinating on a lot of levels. One of them is what they say about human thinking. We have modern science, and modern explanations for a lot of what we experience. But those ancient accounts, whether they’re of sky-wolves eating the sun (that was a Viking belief) or of the sun and moon fighting (that belief comes from Togo), are still woven into our psyche at some level.

ps. I don’t live in the path of totality of this latest eclipse, so this beautiful ‘photo comes courtesy of ABC News.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Cotterill, Fred Vargas, Tarquin Hall, Tony Hillerman

Smokin’ Cigarettes and Writing Something Nasty on the Wall*

When most of us think of crimes, especially those featured in crime novels, we think of murder, rape, and other serious wrongdoing. And those are horrible things. But there are other crimes, too; and, although they’re usually considered less serious, they can be annoying at the least, and frightening at worst. One of those crimes is vandalism. If you’ve ever had your home or car spray-painted, you know what I mean. There are other forms of vandalism, too, that I’m sure you’ve seen, even if they haven’t happened to you.

Vandalism plays a role in crime fiction, too. Sometimes it’s meant to serve as a warning to the sleuth (or a victim). Other times, it’s separate, but related to the overall premise of a book. Either way, it can add tension (and sometimes clues) to a story.

For instance, in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night, mystery novelist Harriet Vane returns to her alma mater, Shrewsbury College, Oxford, at the request of the dean. It seems there’ve been some disturbing incidents of vandalism at the school, among other events. The school administrators don’t want to call in the police, but they do want the person responsible to be stopped. So, Vane agrees to see what she can do, and goes to the university under the pretext of doing research for a new novel. What she finds is that someone has a serious grudge, and is determined to commit sabotage. With help from Lord Peter Wimsey, Vane discovers who the person is, and how these incidents are connected to the past.

Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring features her sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn. At the time this novel takes place, she’s an academician and political scientist. In one plot thread of the novel, someone has spray-painted anti-gay slogans and slurs on part of the campus of her university. Those areas have to be closed off so that they can be cleaned and repaired. And that means that some of the faculty members have to take up temporary residence elsewhere. So, Kilbourn agrees to share her office with her colleague Ed Mariani for the time being. That makes some real tension when both get caught up in the mystery surrounding the murder of another colleague, Reed Gallagher.

In Tony Hillerman’s The Dark Wind, Navajo Tribal Police officer Delbert Nez has been trying to catch the person responsible for a spate of spray-painting. He thinks he has his perpetrator one day and goes on the hunt. While he’s out on the road, he’s shot, and his car is burned. The most likely suspect is Ashie Pinto, who’s found nearby with the murder weapon and a bottle of alcohol (presumably used in the burning). Sergeant Jim Chee, who was a friend of Nez’, is determined to catch his killer, and sees no reason not to arrest Pinto. And in fact, Pinto does nothing to defend himself. But, he does have the right to a fair hearing, and Janet Pete, of the Navajo People’s Legal Service (Dinébe’iiná Náhiiłna be Agha’diit’ahii (DNA)) is sent to be sure that’s what happens. As it turns out, there’s much more going on here than it seems on the surface. Fans of Hillerman’s novels will know that The Dark Wind also includes some episodes of vandalism that end up being linked to a case that involves smuggling and murder.

In Christopher Fowler’s Seventy-Seven Clocks, a strange man dressed in Edwardian clothes visits London’s National Gallery. While he’s there, he throws acid on John William Waterhouse’s The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius.  It seems to be a deliberate choice of painting, too. To make matters worse, the damaged art was on loan from the Australian government, so the very tricky matter of international relations is also involved. It’s certainly a strange crime, so it’s handed to the Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) run by Arthur Bryant and John May. And it turns out to be connected to an equally strange murder they’re investigating.

In one plot thread of Peter James’ Not Dead Yet, Brighton and Hove Superintendent Roy Grace learns that a man named Amis Smallbone is about to be released from prison. He’s not too happy about it, because Smallbone is,
 

‘…the nastiest and most malevolent piece of vermin he had ever dealt with.’
 

But there’s not much he can do. Then, Grace’s partner, Cleo Morey, finds that her car has been sabotaged, and a taunting sign left on it. Grace assumes that Smallbone’s responsible, and he acts on that. But is he right?

Meg Gardiner introduces science fiction author and legal researcher Evan Delaney in China Lake. In that novel, Delaney goes up against a fanatic religious group called the Remnant. She’s shocked to learn that her former sister-in-law, Tabitha, is now a member of the group. She left Delaney’s brother, Brian, and their six-year-old son, Luke, and the loss was devastating for the whole family. Now, she’s back, and she wants Luke. And the Remnant is prepared to do whatever it takes to help her get the boy. The group tries to intimidate the Delaneys with threats and vandalism. When that’s not successful, they get more dangerous. And Delaney soon learns that they have plans that go far beyond taking Luke away from his father.

And then there’s D.S. Nelson’s Model For Murder. Blake Heatherington has retired from his London millinery shop to the village of Tuesbury, where he still makes the occasional special-order hat. One of the sources of pride in town is a model village that depicts the various businesses and other buildings. One day, newsagent Harold Salter is killed, and his body found in a local wood. Strangely enough, there’s a cross marked on the model newsagent’s, and figure that represents Salter goes missing. Then, there’s another murder, also of a local business owner. Again, the model business is marked with a cross, and the figure goes missing. It seems that these murders might be connected with the Vodou beliefs of many people from Haiti and Jamaica. But Heatherington learns that the killings have nothing to do with religion or spirituality. Instead, they’re linked to a past event.

Vandalism can take many different forms, and it’s distressing, no matter what sort it is. But in crime fiction, vandalism can add an interesting ‘wrinkle’ to a story. And it can serve as a clue or ‘red herring.’

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stevie Wonder’s I Wish.

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Filed under Christopher Fowler, D.S. Nelson, Gail Bowen, Meg Gardiner, Peter James, Tony Hillerman

Nothing Could be Longer Than that Corrugated Road*

There’s plenty of crime in cities and suburbia. We see it on the news, and we read about it in crime fiction, too. Large city police forces certainly have their hands full, and I’m sure you could list dozens and dozens of big-city crime novels and series.

It’s interesting to contrast that sort of work with the work of a very rural police officer or other law enforcement officer. There’s crime in both cases – sometimes horrible crime – and, like their counterparts in cities, rural law enforcement officers have to do things like file paperwork, interview witnesses, look for evidence, and so on. But there are differences, too.

Rural law enforcement people are often spread thinner, as the saying goes. So, it helps if they’re familiar with the land. In some cases, they also have to be very much aware of weather patterns and other natural phenomena. And they tend to know the people they serve quite well, since there are usually far fewer of them. There are other differences, too. And it’s interesting to see how rural law enforcement plays out in crime fiction.

For example, Arthur Upfield’s Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte works with the Queensland Police. But, as fans can tell you, he certainly doesn’t stay in Brisbane. His territory is large, and lots of it is very rural. So, he’s learned to read ‘the Book of the Bush.’ He understands weather patterns, animal traces, and so on. And he gets to know both the Aboriginal groups he meets and the whites who live in the tiny towns and ranches in the area. He’s learned to pay attention, too, to the stories and gossip he hears. Word spreads, so he’s often able to learn about an area’s history and legends. That helps him, too.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest grew up in Moonlight Downs, a very rural Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. She left for school and travel, but returns in Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs). And, in Gunshot Road, she begins a new job as an ACPO (Aboriginal Community Police Officer). In both novels, she shows her deep understanding of the land, the weather, and other natural phenomena. We also see how connected she is to the people she serves. She knows, or at least has heard of, practically everyone, even though people are very spread out in her territory. Most of the people in the area know her, too, and trust her, since she’s ‘one of them.’ That relationship means that she’s able to get information that people aren’t always willing to give to the police.

A similar thing might be said of Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. They are members of the Navajo Nation. They are also members of the Navajo Tribal Police. Most members of the Navajo community live in a very spread-out, rural area of the Southwest US. Chee and Leaphorn cover an awful lot of territory in their investigations, and some of that land is unforgiving, so both have learned to respect it. They understand weather patterns and other phenomena, and they’re smart enough not to take risks they don’t have to take. Members of the Navajo community know each other, or at least know of each other. In fact, there are complicated links among various Navajo clans. So, there’s less anonymity, even in such a sparsely populated area, than there is in some large cities. And Chee and Leaphorn take advantage of the way word spreads. You’re quite right, fans of Stan Jones’ Nathan Active series, and of Scott Young’s Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak novels. We see a similar situation in Alaska and in Canada’s far northern places.

And it’s not always in the far north of Canada, either. For example, Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s Detective Inspector (DI) Hazel Micallef series takes place in fictional Port Dundas, Ontario. Micallef and her team cover a wide area that’s mostly rural and small-town. It’s not a big department, and they don’t have access to a lot of resources. But they make do, as best they can, with what they have. One of their advantages is that people know each other. For instance, Micallef’s mother, Emily, is a former mayor of Port Dundas. So, she’s well aware of the area’s social networks. So are most of the members of Micallef’s police team. And they use those networks to get information. Things can get awkward, as they do when you work in the same town where you grew up. But Micallef and her team also use that familiarity to their advantage.

So does Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire (oh, come on – you knew I couldn’t do a piece about rural law enforcement without mentioning him). He’s the sheriff of fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. While he’s based in the small town of Durant, he does more than his share of travel throughout the mostly rural county. As fans can tell you, Longmire has learned to be respectful of the weather conditions, natural forces and climate in the area. It can be a harsh place to live and work, especially in the winter. But Longmire knows the tricks of survival. He also knows the value of all of the networks of rural communication. Because it’s a sparsely-populated area, there’s sometimes a lot of travel between places. So, Longmire has learned to make use of those social networks. He knows that people – even people who don’t live close by – congregate at places like the Red Pony (a local bar/restaurant) and the Busy Bee Café. So, he listens to what he hears in those places. That helps him make the most efficient use of his travel efforts.

And that’s the way it is for a lot of rural law enforcement characters. It’s quite a different form of policing to what goes on in large towns, suburbs, and cities. And it’s important work, too. Anyone who says crime doesn’t happen in rural areas hasn’t read much crime fiction (right, fans of Bill Crider’s Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels?)…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Gunbarrel Highway.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Arthur Upfield, Bill Crider, Craig Johnson, Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, Scott Young, Stan Jones, Tony Hillerman

There’ll be One Child Born and a World to Carry On*

One of the many things that parents do is pass on certain traditions to their children. That’s one important way in which culture is perpetuated, if you think about it. Those traditions may be religious, but they certainly don’t have to be. It could be a family tradition of winemaking, or a particular way of cooking, or something else. And it’s interesting to see how many of those traditions people follow when they become adults.

We see that in crime fiction, just as we do in real life. For example, John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook, the first of his Dr. Gideon Fell novels, features a family tradition among the Starberths. It seems that several generations of Starberth men served as governors of Chatterham Prison, until the place fell into disuse. The prison itself is in ruins now, but it’s still part of an important Starberth family tradition. Each Starberth male spends the night of his twenty-fifth birthday in the old Governor’s Room at the prison. As proof of his presence, he’s to open the safe in the room, and read and follow the instructions on a piece of paper that’s kept there. Tragically, too, many of those Starberth men have met with untimely ends. There’s even talk the family is cursed. Now, it’s Martin Starberth’s turn. He’s not looking forward to the experience, but he prepares himself to do what he’s supposed to do. On the night of his birthday, though, he dies of an apparent fall from the balcony of the Governor’s Room. It turns out, though, that Starberth’s death was no accident at all. Fell, who lives nearby, investigates with some help from an American guest, Tad Rampole. They find that this death has very little to do with a family curse. You’re right, fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Musgrave Ritual.

Sometimes, a tradition that’s passed on is professional. The child of a police officer or firefighter, etc., follows the same path. And that can lead to a lot of success. But it doesn’t always work out that way. For example, in James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, we meet L.A.P.D. officer Edmund ‘Ed’ Exley. He bears the heavy burden of being the son of revered police detective, Preston Exley. And Exley the elder intends that his son will go as far as possible in the department. So, he pushes him to climb the proverbial ladder, and berates him when he doesn’t achieve. For his part, Ed works hard and does everything ‘by the book’ – too much so for plenty of people. And the pressure he feels from his father turns him into a player of politics. That has an important impact when seven civilians are attacked by the police – and, two years later, when there’s a shooting at a nightclub. It’s an interesting look at the way a family professional tradition can impact the next generation.

Some family traditions are religious/spiritual in nature. That’s the case with Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee. He is a member of the Navajo Nation, and a member of the Navajo Tribal Police. Although he’s certainly familiar with dominant-culture society, Chee prefers to follow the traditions of his own people. In fact, early in the series, he studies to become a yata’ali – a singer/healer. Chee’s maternal uncle, Frank Sam Nakai, is pleased about this. He himself is a singer, and wants to pass along those rituals. And there aren’t as many young people interested in learning them as there were. So, Nakai works with Chee when he can, and teaches him what he needs to know.

We also see the passing on of religious traditions in Faye Kellerman’s Rina Lazarus/Peter Dekcer series. When we first meet these sleuths, Lazarus lives with her two sons, Jaakov ‘Jake’ and Shmuel ‘Sammy’ in Yeshivat Ohavei Torah, an Orthodox Jewish community near Los Angeles. Her religion is extremely important to her, so she wants to pass it on to her children. It’s a bit difficult, because she is a widow, but Lazarus keeps the house in the kosher style, speaks to her sons in both English and Hebrew, and so on. They study religion and religious history at the community’s school, too. The other members of the community do much the same thing. It’s part of the bond among the people who live there.

Peter May’s The Blackhouse explores a different sort of tradition. In that novel, Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ Macleod is seconded to the Isle of Lewis when a murder occurs there that resembles one he’s already investigating. It’s hoped that, if the same person committed both crimes, it’ll be easier to catch the killer if both teams are working on the case. For Macleod, this is a homecoming, since he was raised on the Isle of Lewis. But it’s not a joyful prospect, as he had his own reasons for leaving in the first place. As Macleod works through the investigation, we learn about life on the Isle of Lewis. One of the traditions that’s a part of this story is that every year, a group of men travel to An Sgeir, an outcropping of rock fifty miles away. They spend two weeks there, harvesting guga, young gannet that nest on the rock. It’s dangerous and physically very demanding, and not everyone gets to go. In fact, it’s a real mark of distinction to be one of those who do. As new places in the group open up, people ‘sponsor’ sons, nephews, or even grandsons, to join the team. In that way, the tradition of harvesting the guga has been passed along for as long as anyone knows.

And that’s the thing about passing along traditions. People want to preserve parts of their culture, or they want to pass along their profession. So they teach their children, hoping that they will preserve what they’ve learned.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Laura Nyro’s And When I Die. Listen to her version,  Peter, Paul and Mary’s version, and the recording by Blood, Sweat & Tears, and see which one you prefer.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Faye Kellerman, James Ellroy, John Dickson Carr, Peter May, Tony Hillerman

Like a Tree, Ability Will Bloom and Grow*

I’ll bet you’ve had the experience. You enjoy skiing, and you’ve tackled some challenging runs. Then, you don’t get the chance to ski for a while. When you finally do again, it’s back to the bunny slopes, because your skills have gotten a bit rusty. Or, perhaps you’re a card player who takes a break from it for a while. Then, when you get into a poker game, you find yourself making ‘beginner mistakes.’

Whether it’s music, running, poker, or cooking, your skills get and stay sharper if you use them regularly. The same is true for writing. That’s why writers are so often urged to write every day, even if it’s just a few sentences.

If you ask Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, he’ll tell you that detection skills need to be sharpened regularly, too. In The A.B.C. Murders, he works with Chief Inspector Japp and other police detectives to solve a baffling series of murders. It’s a challenging case, and certainly puts Poirot on his mettle. But that actually suits Poirot. At the beginning of the novel, before the first murder actually occurs, he has a conversation with Captain Hastings, who’s returned from Argentina for a stay in London. Hastings makes a comment about Poirot’s being retired; here’s Poirot’s answer:
 

‘‘And I will admit it, my friend, the retirement, I care for it not at all. If the little grey cells are not exercised, they grow the rust.’’
 

Research bears him out. Studies show that the more we use our thinking skills, the longer in life we have them.

And it’s not just thinking and detecting, although there are several examples of those in crime fiction. We see plenty of other examples of characters who know the value of regular discipline to keep skills strong. That side of a character can add an interesting dimension; it’s realistic, too.

For example, fans of Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss can tell you that she is a police detective with the Violent Crimes Unit of the Göteborg Police. She is also a former Swedish national judo champion, and former European champion. Her job and family life keep her very busy, but that doesn’t mean she wants to give up martial arts. So, she goes to the dojo sometimes to work out and to keep her skills strong. Her judo sessions are also very useful for keeping her in good physical condition. And sometimes, when she’s on the job, her skill at judo turns out to be very useful.

One of Elizabeth Spann Craig’s series features Beatrice Coleman, a former Atlanta folk art curator who’s retired to the small town of Dappled Hills, North Carolina. As we learn in Quilt or Innocence, the first of this series, she originally moved to Dappled Hills to be nearer to her daughter, Piper. But she’s soon drawn into life in her new home. And that includes the Village Quilters, one of several local quilting guilds. When she first gets to know the members of the guild, Beatrice doesn’t know much about how to quilt.  It doesn’t help, either, that some of the members have been quilting for decades, and make it all look very easy (which it’s not, really). Part of the reason for this is that the guild members mees regularly, both to keep their skills sharp and to keep their social network strong. Little by little, Beatrice learns some quilting skills, and is better able to contribute to the group’s work. Among other things, this series shows how something like quilting really has to be done regularly to hone skills.

So does playing baseball. Like any athletes, baseball players have regular workout sessions, even during the off-season. Skills such as pitching, catching, running, and communicating with teammates, have to be kept sharp if a team is going to win. And that doesn’t happen if players spend too much time off the field. There’s a dose of this in Alison Gordon’s Katherine ‘Kate’ Henry series. Henry is a sportswriter for the Toronto Planet. Her specialty is baseball, as was her creator’s. So, she travels with the (American League) Toronto Titans, and, of course, attends their home games. Readers follow along as the team members sharpen their skills during spring training (in Night Game), and work out before games during the baseball season (e.g. in The Dead Pull Hitter). The series gives readers an ‘inside look’ at the way professional athletes keep their skills from getting rusty.

But it’s not just athletic or other physical skills that need to be honed. Just ask John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep. He’s a member of the Royal Thai Police, based in Bangkok. He is also a devout Buddhist. As you’ll know, Buddhism entails the mental discipline of regular meditation and focus. And it doesn’t come easily. It requires patience, lots of repetition and training, and regular mental exercise. And all of that takes time. Still, Jitpleecheep has found that study and meditation help him keep his focus and develop his spiritual and cognitive side.

You might say a similar thing about Tony Hillerman’s Sergeant Jim Chee. As fans can tell you, he is a member of the Navajo Nation. He is also a member of the Navajo Tribal Police. Chee has kept many of the Navajo traditions, too. In fact, at the beginning of the series, he is studying to be a yata’ali, a Navajo singer/healer. To be a skilled yata’ali takes a great deal of training and time. Each ritual has its own complexities, and Chee aims to learn to do each one exactly correctly. So, he hones his skills regularly, by going through the steps of each ritual. And, at least in the first novels of the series, he doesn’t let a lot of time go by between sessions. He knows the importance of not allowing his skills to rust.

And that’s the thing about skills, whether they are mental or physical. They need to be used, on a regular basis, or they do get rusty. Little wonder we see characters keeping their skills sharp in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman’s Scales and Arpeggios.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Helene Tursten, John Burdett, Tony Hillerman