Talking Godnby Tony HillermannNew York: Harper & Row;n239 pp., $17.95nOn a windswept bluff high aboventhe reddish-brown San Juan River,nfour states—Arizona, New Mexico,nUtah, and Colorado—converge. Visitorsnto the area come to play a game ofntwister at the Four Comers Monument,ncontorting themselves so that each ofntheir limbs touches a different state.nThen, remarking upon the windswept,nsandy desolation of the place, theynhurry off to the greener ground of thenRockies or the populous Grand Canyon.nFor most of them, there is notnmuch to see, not much reason to lingernon this arid plateau. But to the NavajonIndians who inhabit it, the Four Cornersncountry, bounded by four sacrednmountains of abalone, white shell, turquoise,nand redstone, is a land of peerlessnbeauty, exalted in song and story asn”the center of the earth.”nThe Dine Bike’yah, the Navajo nation,nis also a terrifying place, populatednby millions of mischief-workingnghosts, by witches and were-animals;nfor in death, the Navajo believe, one’snsoul flies from the body, leaving behindnnot only the mortal shell but alsonany good characteristics one may havenhad in life. Only the newborn and thenvery old are spared this fate; their soulsnmerely vanish into the void. The rest,nvictims of alcohol poisoning, of KitnCarson’s bullets, of ancient faminesnand plagues, of poverty and despairnand sickness, wander the land, tormentingnthe living—who in turn practicena complex body of ritual to wardnoff malevolent spirits, and who untilnvery recently were known to lynchnsuspected witches. From this en-nGregory McNamee is the author of anforthcoming book of essays, ThenReturn of Richard Nixon. He lives innTucson.nWalk in Beauty, Walk in Fearnby Gregory McNameen”Step into the shoes of him who lures the enemy to death.”n— from the Navajo Enemy Waynchanted landscape, among the fearfulnliving and the restless dead, novelistnand former police-beat reporter TonynHillerman has drawn the material for annearly dozen popular mysteries publishednin the last twenty years — as wellnas the wherewithal of detective fiction.nHillerman’s fame came slowly. Innthe middle 1960’s, he has said, he wasninspired to write about the Dine —n”the people,” as the Navajo callnthemselves — after an incident innChinle Wash, at the mouth of Canyonnde Chelly. While sitting on its banks,nhe heard a whistling sound that madenhim think of Kokopelli, the humpbacked,nflute-playing god of the prehistoricnAnasazi who had occupied thencountry before the invading Navajonarrived from Canada in the 13 th century.nThe whistling turned out to havenbeen the tinkling of bells from a flocknof sheep, the sound distorted by then.weathered sandstone walls of the canyon.nIt was epiphany enough. “Thatnday,” Hillerman has written, “I decidednI would try to communicate mynfeelings for the Navajo and their sacrednland.”nFor the first few years, this giftednnnconvert preached to the choir.nHillerman’s books enjoyed only cultnstatus, devoured by an eager handful ofnriver-runners and desert rats — andneven a few Navajo — in the high countrynof New Mexico and northern Arizona.nThese readers spread the word tonanyone who would listen; in the laten1970’s, one could hear Hillermanntouted in Flagstaff bars and Albuquerquensporting-good shops, but couldnrarely find his novels in bookstores.nWith such a small audience Hillerman’snfirst mystery, The Blessing Wayn(1970), died a quick death; his secondnbook. The Fly on the Wall, was remainderednalmost immediately afternits release. (Now that the genialnHillerman, in his early 60’s and retirednfrom teaching and journalism, hasnmade it to the big time, his entire bodynof work is in print.) But in the last fewnyears, each of his books — standardnpolice procedural tempered by ethnologicalnobservation — has been releasednto wider and wider reception,nfirst throughout the West, and latelyneast of the Hundredth Meridian. Hisnmost recent novel. Talking God, hasnoccupied a spot on the best-seller list ofnThe New York Times since its publicationnin the spring of 1989, clinching itsnauthor’s nationwide reputation. RobertnRedford, having bought film rights tonall the author’s books, is now producingnThe Dark Wind, due for release inn1990. But despite his newfound fame,nHillerman still thinks of his fans as ancadre of “desert rats and anthropologists.”nT he Blessing Way is vintage, evennarchetypal Hillerman; in its pagesnemerge the fictional patterns and onenof the two protagonists that Hillermannhas employed ever since. It spins thentale of the seemingly supernaturalnmurder of one Luis Horseman, anMany Ruins Canyon Navajo on thenrun from a “Navajo Wolf” — that is, anwarlock able to metamorphose into anynnumber of animals. Just which animalnJANUARY 1990/33n