KEYWORDS: Tony Hillerman novel made for TV movie PBS special Coyote Waits Wes Studi Adam Beach Lt. Joe Leaphorn Chee Indian movie Keith Carradine Graham Greene Jan Egleson

AUTHOR: LYNN CLINE | The New Mexican

For the coyote, the wait is over. Coyote Waits: An American Mystery! Special, the second film in the PBS Mystery! series based on bestselling Albuquerque author Tony Hillerman's novels, screened to a packed, invitation-only audience Thursday at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

On hand for the screening were the cast and crew, including Wes Studi and Adam Beach. Actress Jane Fonda, who has a ranch near Pecos, and Hillerman were also present.

Coyote Waits stars Santa Fe actor Wes Studi as the legendary Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Adam Beach as the younger officer, Chee. They become mired in the world of a Navajo shaman as they attempt to solve the murder of a fellow officer. Also appearing are Keith Carradine, who plays an ornery trading-post owner, and Graham Greene as a born-again reservation revivalist.

The film was directed by Jan Egleson, who also was at the helm of the films Lemon Sky, A Shock to the System and Blue Diner.

Coyote Waits, which airs on PBS stations around the country Nov. 16, was shot in New Mexico, unlike the first Hillerman-based PBS film, Skinwalkers, which was shot near Phoenix. New Mexico's tax incentives for filmmakers, along with Richardson's prodding, lured production of Coyote Waits as well as Thief of Time -- slated to air in February -- to New Mexico.

Skinwalkers was PBS' highest-rated program in 2002, prompting network executives to continue the series.

"We are developing some more of Hillerman's novels for PBS," Eaton said in an interview before the screening. "We're going slowly because our pockets are not overflowing with money. But we have British partners. Tony Hillerman is internationally famous. His books sell in every airport in the world, practically."

Eaton was drawn to Hillerman's novels for several reasons. "I think the appeal is that they were enormously popular and quintessentially American mysteries with two strong central characters and a magnificent sense of place -- the Southwest," she said.

"The mysteries themselves are the kind that we've always done -- good, complicated, cerebral puzzles. But Mystery! the series has always made a point of doing mysteries that are character-driven, so Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are what we could call detectives with legs, or policemen with legs, meaning they are the kind of characters that you want to stay with for a long time."

Hillerman's novels also appealed to Mystery! because of their focus on American Indian culture, Eaton said.

"I think there's an ongoing fascination with Native American culture," she said. "In this country, I think our awareness of this culture is getting more sophisticated, with more of an interest in the history, the anthropology and the mysticism."

Eaton was thrilled by Hillerman's enthusiasm for the films. "He's been terrific," she said. "He has been generous and flexible with our creative process. He wrote the books and he's been really generous, understanding how things might be changed. And there are changes."