Asked in a recent interview if he has a personal favorite among his books, Hillerman without hesitation named A Thief of Time. ‘‘That would be my pet,’’ he said (Companion 63). His publishers showed their own enthusiasm for the book by printing 75,000 first-edition hardcover copies (Publisher’s Weekly, 27 May 1988) compared to the 30,000 copies they issued for the first edition of the ‘‘breakthrough’’ Skinwalkers (Publisher’s Weekly, 28 November 1986). Distribution of A Thief of Time as a Book-of-the-Month Club offering and a Quality Paperback Book Club selection further broadened the book’s popular appeal.
Eighth in publishing order within the series about the Navajo Tribal Police, A Thief of Time for the second time brings together in a single narrative Hillerman’s sleuths, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee. Each of them is at a critical moment in his personal life but nonetheless displays his distinctive detective abilities at their height. Adding to its intrinsic attraction, the novel also provides one of Hillerman’s most accessible statements about Native American culture. As the book’s title resonates in our reading, we come to see that the illicit trade in ancient pots and other artifacts, which forms the subject of the criminal plot, also signifies a thematic issue of the appropriation of the materialized record of a people’s time on the North American continent, a theft of their history.