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A THIEF OF TIME by Tony Hillerman (Harper & Row: $4.95)

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January 21, 1990|CHARLES SOLOMON

Tony Hillerman's suspenseful mystery introduces bright Arizona sunshine into the shadowy world of detective fiction. The level-headed tribal policeman, Lt. Joe Leaphorn, who embodies the conflict between traditional Navajo beliefs and mainstream American culture, traces the stolen Anasazi pottery that provides the key to a series of murders. A thief of time is a slang term for a grave robber who supplies the burgeoning art market with artifacts, and the book contains a devastating portrait of an aging collector who gets vicarious thrills imagining the lusty rituals of the people who wrought his vases and statues. Hillerman clearly sympathizes with the Navajos' efforts to protect the graves of their ancestors, and his story evokes the beautiful, barren Southwestern landscape that conceals their tombs.

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