Tony Hillerman's bestselling Navajo mysteries have thrilled millions of readers with their taut, intricate plotting, sensitive, subtle characterizations and lyrical evocations of landscapes and cultures. Now he departs his trademark terrain and applies his talents to a story he has wanted to tell for decades about an ordinary man thrust into total chaos.
Until the telephone call came for him on April 12, 1975, the world of Moon Mathias had settled into a predictable routine. He knew who he was. He was the disappointing son of Victoria Mathias, the brother of the brilliant, recently dead Ricky Mathias and a man who could be counted on to solve small problems. But the telephone caller was an airport security officer, and the news he delivered handed Moon a problem as large as Southeast Asia.
Location figures powerfully in Hillerman's newest novel, but it isn't the Southwest of his Navajo mysteries (Sacred Clowns, etc.), nor is this a Joe Leaphorn story. In April 1975, Moon Mathias, managing editor of a small-town Colorado newspaper, begins a redemptive journey that takes him first to Manila and then across the South China Sea to Cambodia, just as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge begin their reign of terror. Moon's brother Ricky, owner of a helicopter transportation service based in Cambodia, has recently died in a jungle crash. Their mother receives word that Ricky's baby daughter is being smuggled out of Vietnam to the Philippines. After his mother has a heart attack in the Manila airport, Moon takes over her mission, but the child does not arrive. Finding and contacting Ricky's acquaintances, Moon fights time, political exigencies and his ignorance of his brother's life as he tries doggedly to locate his niece. The effort involves an appealing cast, including a wealthy Chinese man seeking his ancestors' bones, a Dutch woman searching for her missionary brother and Vietnamese refugees, who join Moon on a suspenseful, albeit not quite credible, journey to a series of villages along the Mekong River. In the end, as the title suggests, Moon finds more than he'd known was lost. Hillerman's mastery of setting and his compassionate, patient characterization are fully present in this tale, which is otherwise somewhat formulaic. 350,000 first printing; $300,000 ad/promo; HarperAudio. (Oct.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 19, 1996
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Excerpt from Finding Moon by Tony Hillerman
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 12 (Agence France-Presse) -- The United States abandoned its embassy here this morning, with six helicopters sweeping into the embassy grounds to evacuate the ambassador and his remaining staff.
The action came as the last resistance of the Cambodian Army collapsed and Khmer Rouge troops poured into the capital, many of them riding on captured tanks and trucks.
The First Day April 12, 1975
Sirley was giving Moon the caller-on-hold signal when he came through the newsroom door. He acknowledged Shirley with the I'll-call-'em-back signal, threw his hat on the copy desk, sat down, and looked at D. W. Hubbell.
"Nothing much," Hubbell said. "AP has an early tornado in Arkansas. Pretty mediocre, but it could get better. Things are still going to hell in Nam, and Ford has a press conference scheduled for eleven Washington time, and Kissinger issued a statement, and General Motors --"
"What did Henry say?"
Hubbell did not bother to look up from his duties, which at the moment involved chopping copy from the teletype machine into individual stories and sorting them into trays. The trays were variously labeled PAGE ONE, SPORTS, FEATURES, FUNNY, SOB STUFF, and PIG IRON -- the pig iron being what Hubbell considered "seriously dull stuff that the League of Women Voters reads."
Hubbell said, "What did Henry say? Let's see." He glanced at the top item in the PIG IRON file. "Henry said that Dick Nixon was correct in declaring we had won the war in Southeast Asia. He said the North Viets were just too stubborn to understand that, and the press was playing up the current setbacks to make it look like a disaster, and it was going to be the fault of the Congress for not sending more money, and anyway don't blame Kissinger. Words to that effect."
"What looks good for the play story?" Moon asked, and sorted quickly through the FRONT PAGE tray. The United States seemed to be evacuating the embassy at Phnom Penh. Moon saved that one. The new president of South Vietnam, something-or-other Thieu, was picking a fight-to-the-death bunch for his cabinet. Moon discarded it. A bill to put a price ceiling on domestic oil production was up for a vote in a Senate committee. That was weak but a possibility. The South Viets were claiming a resounding victory at Xuan Loc, wherever that was. He tossed that one too. Senator Humphrey declared that we should establish a separate U.S. Department of Education. There'd be some interest in that. The Durance County Commissioners had moved the road to the ski basin up a notch on the priority list. Most of the 28,000 subscribers the paper claimed would be interested in that one. And then there was a colorful, gruesome feature on the plight of refugees pouring into Saigon from points north.