Finding Moonby Tony Hillerman
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.
His mother, who should be in her Florida apartment, is fighting for her life in a Los Angeles hospital -- stricken while en route to the Philippines to bring home a grandchild they hadn't known existed. The papers in her purse send Moon into a world totally strange to him. They lure him down the back streets of Manila, to a rural cockfight, into the odd Filipino prison on Palawan Island and finally across the South China Sea to where Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge is turning Cambodia into killing fields and Communist rockets are beginning to fall on the outskirts of Saigon.
Finding Moon is many things: a latter-day adventure epic, a deftly orchestrated romance, an arresting portrait of an exotic realm engulfed in turmoil, and a neatly turned tale of suspense. Most of all, it is a singular story of how a plain, uncertain man finds his best self.
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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. Hesaid 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.
It was good human interest stuff, but even as he read it Moon was conscious of how quickly these accounts of tragedy from Vietnam had become merely filler -- like the comics and Ann Landers and the crossword puzzle. A few years ago they had been personal. Then he'd searched through the news for references to Ricky's Air Mobile brigade, for actions using helicopters, for anything involving the Da Nang sector where Ricky's maintenance company was stationed. But since Ricky resigned his commission in 1968, Ricky had been out of it. And since 1973 the United States of America was also out of it. What was left of the war was a distant abstraction. As Hubbell had described it once, "Just another case of our gooks killing their gooks." In the press across America, and in the Morning Press-Register of Durance, Colorado, the war was no longer page one.
But it was still page one sometimes at the Press-Register -- until last month. Ricky was still in Nam, a player on the sidelines. That made Moon interested and made him think the Press-Register's readers would also be. Now Ricky was dead, no longer running R. M. Air and fixing helicopters for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam just as he had fixed them for the U.S. Army. Probably the same copters, in fact. But as Ricky had said in one of his rare letters, he was "getting a hell of a lot more money and a hell of a lot less aggravation from division headquarters." There was a kickback to ARVN brass, but Ricky considered that "the equivalent of an income tax."
Ricky had said more. He had said, Come and join me, big brother. Come and join the team. Join the fun. It would be like old times. He'd said, South Nam is going under, and fast. Soon there'll be no more fat contracts from ARVN, but there will still be plenty of need for what R. M. Air can offer. Help me get this outfit ready for the change. And he'd said (Moon remembered the exact words), "R. M. Air is no good for slogans. We'll rename it M. R. Air, for Moon and Rick, and call it Mister Air. I'll do the business, you keep the engines running. Come on. With all that money she's married to now, Mom doesn't need you anymore. But I do."
Which was just Ricky buttering him up. Their mother had never needed him. Victoria Mathias wasn't a woman who needed people. And neither did Ricky. But bullshit or not, Moon had enjoyed thinking about making the move, even while he was wondering why Ricky had invited him. But he had never answered the letter. There hadn't been time.
"That Arkansas twister is looking better," Hubbell said, inspecting the copy now emerging from the teletype. "The new lead says they got thirteen dead now." He waved the paper at Moon, looking mildly pleased with himself.Finding Moon. Copyright © by Tony Hillerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Tony Hillerman (1925–2008), an Albuquerque, New Mexico, resident since 1963, was the author of 29 books, including the popular 18-book mystery series featuring Navajo police officers Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, two non-series novels, two children’s books, and nonfiction works. He had received every major honor for mystery fiction; awards ranging from the Navajo Tribal Council's commendation to France 's esteemed Grand prix de litterature policiere. Western Writers of America honored him with the Wister Award for Lifetime achievement in 2008. He served as president of the prestigious Mystery Writers of America, and was honored with that group’s Edgar Award and as one of mystery fiction’s Grand Masters. In 2001, his memoir, Seldom Disappointed, won both the Anthony and Agatha Awards for best nonfiction.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Date of Birth:
- May 27, 1925
- Date of Death:
- October 26, 2008
- Place of Birth:
- Sacred Heart, Oklahoma
- Place of Death:
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- B.A., University of Oklahoma, 1946; M.A., University of New Mexico, 1966
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I've read all of the Hillerman Leaphorn/Chee novels, and found them to be educational, as well as interesting and gripping. His descriptions of the Arizona-New Mexico country and the rituals and customs of the Native Americans are very accurate. Having recently returned from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, I decided to read "Finding Moon," and found it gripping. It takes place during the last two weeks of the Vietnam War and describes the adventures and setbacks incurred when an America goes there to find the child of his deceased brother and bring her back to the US. I recommend it very highly.
Hillerman follows Moon Mathias through his unexpected adventures through Southeast Asia during the confusion of the closing months of the Vietnam conflict. Hillerman weaves a good story with believable characters and shifting directions. Great read.
I love Tony Hillerman's work and this is no exception. But be warned: if PBS, BBC or National Geographic specials about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge give you nightmares, there are parts of this book that are hard to read. However, I never seriously thought about stopping reading it.
The late Tony Hillerman left his traditional setting of the Navaho reservation, along with his company of players, to examine the last days of the Vietnam War. In summary, Colorado-based reporter Moon Mathias learns that his mother suffered a heart attack while waiting to board a flight. Compounding the surprise is that his Miami-based mother was in Los Angeles, about to head to Manila aboard Philippine Air. A little investigation revealed that Moon's late brother fathered a child before he passed away in a helicopter crash on the Vietnam / Cambodia border, their mother was going to pick up the child and bring her to America, and that the baby also never made it to the rendezvous in Manila. Searching for the child, Moon also heads to the Philippines, and (I doubt this is much of a spoiler for anyone) into the confusion and violence in the Mekong Delta that was April 1975.) This was an enjoyable “read” - I quote it because I listened to the audio version – and the intersperses of “news releases” from the fall of Vietnam enhanced the story that was being told. BUT I felt I missed a lot because it was an abridged version. Some of the transition between scenes felt sloppy, and I had the feeling that a lot of the material that helped to clear up who Moon Mathias believed he was as a man, and who his brother, mother, and those who encountered him believed him to be, was eliminated by the abridgement editor. (Oh, why did I violate my usual rule of “avoid abridgments”?) RATING: 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 stars for those sites that cannot handle fractions of a star. And I believe that the person who performed the abridgment managed to also cut out a half to a whole star from my rating, as well.