Tony Hillerman is famous for his mystery novels set mostly among the Navaho, but he wrote two others that are not: Fly on the Wall about corruption in state government and Finding Moon about Vietnam and Cambodia.
I’ve been rereading Finding Moon, and I’m trying to decide whether it’s just a book that I like a lot because the main character is a middle-aged editor, or whether it’s truly a great work of literature. I’m leaning toward the latter.
The book takes place after the US had pulled its troops out of South Vietnam, just before the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese took over the country and the wildly demented Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia.
‘Moon’ Mathias, managing editor of Morning Press Register in Durance, Colorado, has recently learned that his younger brother Ricky has been killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam. Ricky had been in the army, but had stayed on after his enlistment to run a private helicopter repair company.
Moon (who got his name from a predeliction for moon pies in his youth) hears that his mother has had a heart attack at the airport in Los Angeles, which is kind of strange because she lives in Miami. Turns out she was on her way to the Philippines to pick up Ricky’s daughter whom no one knew about before she heard from a lawyer in Manilla. She calls on Moon to complete the mission.
But because of the deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia, the child has not reached Manilla as planned and Moon has to go after her in Cambodia.
It’s a really exciting story, as well as a journey of self-discovery for Moon (hence the title) and it really shows off Hillerman’s skill as a writer. Not many mystery writers have been able to jump the fence into the category of great literature, but with this book, I really think Hillerman has been able to make the leap. But that might be just because I’m a fellow middle-aged editor.