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A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman

A Thief of Time (1988)

by Tony Hillerman

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Academic competition is fierce, especially when it’s between colleagues trying to get to the historic pottery remnants first to prove their theory and get published. Oh, and recognition in their field.

A thief of time is someone who robs graves in order to take something. In this case, it’s all about the Anasazi, a tribe which mysteriously disappeared around 1200CE. The ruins left behind appear as though the people planned on coming back, but never did.

The black market for pottery is hot, people will pay exorbitant amounts to own a piece of “authentic” pottery with questionable provenance. While Jim Chee is trying to chase down a stolen backhoe, Joe Leaphorn is trying to track down a missing anthropologist.

Personal baggage is heavy in this book. Chee’s relationship with teacher Mary Landon has hit the skids. She’s gone back to the midwest to be with her family and go back to school. In a letter to him, she expresses her deep love for him but sees no way around the white vs. Navajo conundrum they keep bumping against.

Joe Leaphorn is mourning the loss of beloved wife, Emma, who didn’t have Alzheimer’s after all but didn’t survive the surgery to remove a tumor. My heart sank when I read of her death. Interesting how easy it is to get caught up in the lives of fictional characters isn’t it?

While working their individual cases, Chee and Leaphorn eventually cross paths and discover they’re working the same case from different angles. The stolen backhoe is being used to uncover pottery, while a different anthropologist is stealing jaw bones to prove his theory.

A hike to a nearly unknown, unreachable Anasazi ruin, two helicopters converging on the same spot, and the case is solved. But this one seemed rather convoluted to me as it involved a decades old murder case Leaphorn had worked, a traveling tent show leading Navajos to the “Jesus Way,” and those using Chaco Culture National Historic Park as their base to study the Anasazi. Too many moving pieces to keep track of, and an unbelievable ending involving the aforementioned helicopters.

But the thing I have always enjoyed about Hillerman’s books is his love of the Southwest and his use of Navajo culture to keep his mysteries from being just another murder/stolen object procedural. His attention to the cultural differences pulls me in and keeps me there. ( )
  AuntieClio | Aug 22, 2016 |
A thief of time is the Navajo name for someone who steals artifacts from archaeological sites on the reservation. In this case, it's jawbones and potsherds from the abandoned cliff dwellings of the mysterious Anasazi people. A woman archaeologist goes missing, and even though Joe Leaphorn has put in his resignation he gets caught up in the search for her as well as whoever killed two men in the act of looting another archaeological site. The two cases are related, as is a long-ago multiple murder, and Leaphorn figures out how and who with the help of Jim Chee. A good entry in this series. ( )
  rosalita | May 12, 2016 |
This entry in the Leaphorn/Chee series is much more complex than the previous novels. While this is not a lengthy novel, compared to what is being published currently, it is longer than the previous books in the series by about 50 pages. It has more in-depth characterization. I find that the passages that delve into the heads of Chee and Leaphorn are more reflective and complex than what is found in the previous novels - For instance, Leaphorn's doubts about Chee and his abilities as a detective being clouded by his belief system. The question was, how could a Navajo Singer be objective enough to do the investigative work that is required of a policeman/detective? It was also noteworthy that some of Leaphorn's methods and ways of thinking are rubbing off on Chee. There is that passage when Chee finds himself thinking "What questions would Leaphorn ask? And how much would Leaphorn tell Nakaii?" All of this makes the novel much more developed and personal while still maintaining the anthropology lessons for the "belaga" reader. ( )
  benitastrnad | Mar 25, 2016 |
Another enjoyable mystery featuring both Leaphorn and Chee. An archaeologist goes missing and their are apparently one or more people digging illegally at Anasazi sites and selling to collectors. Not to mention the theft of a flatbed trailer and a backhoe ...
  hailelib | Mar 20, 2016 |
An anthropologist who is studying Anasazi pottery goes missing and Leaphorn and Chee end up working the case for different reasons (as is common in this series). This is a great installment in this very solid series and I think it was the first one I ever read; I'm very happy that it is as good as I remember it. In this installment, the insight into how archaeologists and physical anthropologists work and how the black market works adds great texture to the story. The landscape descriptions and the characterizations are great as usual and Hillerman always weaves in a lot of cultural aspects into the story that brings an extra layer to the mystery. This is an excellent series and I am thoroughly enjoying this round of rereads. ( )
1 vote -Eva- | Mar 15, 2016 |
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This story is dedicated to Steven Lovato, firstborn son of Larry and Mary Lovato. May he always go with beauty all around him.
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The moon had risen just above the cliff behind her.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061000043, Mass Market Paperback)

A noted anthropologist vanishes at a moonlit Indian ruin where "thieves of time" ravage sacred ground for profit. When two corpses appear amid stolen goods and bones at an ancient burial site, Navajo Tribal Policemen Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee must plunge into the past to unearth the astonishing truth behind a mystifying series of horrific murders.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:14 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

When two corpses appear amid stolen goods and bones at an ancient burial site, Navajo Tribal Policemen Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee must plunge into the past to unearth the astonishing truth behind a mystifying series of horrific murders. Movie rights sold and characters of Leaphorn and Chee licenses to Wildwood Enterprises (Robert Redford's production company).… (more)

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