The novel that begins Tony Hillerman’s series of Navajo mysteries offers a convenient glimpse of the author’s creative process. In the dominant role it gives to Professor Bergen McKee, it suggests that Hillerman originally associated the adventure of his plots even more closely with the ‘‘romance’’ of anthropology than he would in the subsequent development of his saga of the Reservation. At the same time, The Blessing Way deploys scenes and episodes, and entangles the lines of the plot, in the fashion that has become the hallmark of the Hillerman invention in the crime and mystery genre. Thus, this first novel has unusual value beyond its immediate attraction as an exciting tale of distorted ambition.
The narrative opens on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona but within a few pages shifts to Albuquerque, New Mexico, 400 miles to the east, where Bergen McKee procrastinates instead of grading the eighty-four final examination papers submitted by his Anthropology class at the state university. Part of the reason for his delay is a mood of nervousness and distraction. A larger cause is his preoccupation with a letter he expects from his friend Joe Leaphorn, an officer with the Navajo Tribal Police stationed at Window Rock, of whom he had inquired about the