The popularity of series stories in the detective genre tells us something very important about the relationship between author and reader. Writers become attached to their central characters, seeing the narratives that feature the detective as a set of adventures permitting repeated instances of triumph. Readers become no less attached to fictional detectives. Often readers identify the stories they love by the names of the featured detectives; they admire Agatha Christie’s stories of Hercules Poirot or Miss Marple, for instance. And publishers, because of this popular devotion to sleuths who become familiar through repeated appearances, encourage writers on their lists to keep a series alive.
Understandably, then, writers are not going to whimsically introduce a different detective into their fiction. They need a compelling reason to do so. After using Joe Leaphorn in three Navajo crime stories, Tony Hillerman invented a new detective for reasons intimately associated with themes he wanted to explore. In an interview with Jon L. Breen, he explained that he wanted to set his fourth Native American novel on the Checkerboard Reservation, a section on the eastern side of the big reservation where settlements have been carved out to relocate different tribes in a hopscotch pattern. Ethnically, the section includes Lagunas, Acomas, and Navajos, Mexican Americans, German Americans, and others mixed in a way that brings cultures and religions—among them fundamentalist Christian, Roman Catholic, Mennonite, and the Native