is a 1996 mystery novel by American author Tony Hillerman. Set in Southeast Asia just days before the 1975 Fall of Saigon brought an end to the Vietnam War, it follows Malcolm “Moon” Thomas Mathias, a small newspaper owner from Colorado. Moon travels to Manila to track down his brother Ricky’s infant daughter, Lila Vinh Mathias, after Ricky and his Vietnamese wife are killed in battle. Along the way, Moon negotiates his own complex motivations for making the perilous trip, many of which hinge on the dreams of his dying mother. The novel vividly describes the ruthless genocide carried out by Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the resulting mass displacement of refugees.
The novel begins in Colorado, where Moon manages a barely-known newspaper called the Press-Register
. Moon has always felt like the lesser brother compared to Ricky, who tragically died, devastating their mother, Victoria Mathias Morick. Ricky used to run a helicopter supplier on the Indochina peninsula with his Vietnamese wife, Eleth Vinh. They failed to escape the clutch of the Vietnam War, both dying on the same day when a battle tore through their town. When Victoria learns that Ricky left behind a daughter, Lila, she books a flight to Manila to find her. Before she boards her plane in Los Angeles, she suffers a heart attack. Moon receives a call from the airline informing him that she has been rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for emergency heart surgery. At the hospital, the staff give Moon Victoria’s bags; he looks through what she has packed and deduces why she was traveling. The discovery that he has a niece, not to mention that his elderly mother was en route to find her alone, comes as a shock.
While Victoria recovers, Moon travels to Manila in her place to recover Lila. Two of Ricky’s former clients from the helicopter business, Lum Lee and Mrs. Osa van Winjgaarden, reach out to him. Lum Lee, an old and frail man, asks Moon to help him recover a precious urn passed down through generations of his family that contains the bones of his distant ancestors. Mrs. Osa van Winjgaarden volunteers to travel with Moon on his search for Lila, hoping that along the way, she will discover the whereabouts of her brother, Damon, who fell out of contact while on a missionary assignment for a Lutheran organization.
As Moon travels through the Philippines, he discovers more and more about Ricky’s business dealings and the people he worked with. His search for truth leads him to discover much about himself. At one point, he meets Father Julian, a priest in the Manila Cathedral. Despite being agnostic, he opens up to Father Julian in a confession booth, lamenting that he held a negative self-belief due to his brother’s success and let his own identity fade away. Ultimately, Moon finds Lila via a pilot named George Rice, who transported her to Saigon after her parents’ death. At the end of the novel, Lila is set to be flown to the United States. Other than his successful retrieval operation, Moon is happy to have rediscovered himself. In this way, Finding Moon
is just as much about a search for identity as it is a detective novel.