Tony Hillerman

Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn - Navaho Tribal Police - Shiprock, New Mexico (Four Corners)

(Jump down to read a review of The Sinister Pig)
(Jump down to read a review of The Wailing Wind)

(Jump down to read a review of The First Eagle )
(Jump down to read a review of The Fallen Man)

"Skeleton Man"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer DEC 19, 2004)

Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman

Retired Navajo Tribal Policeman Joe Leaphorn has been asked by Captain Pinto to look...unofficially...into a cold case that might be connected to a current robbery. Years ago, tradepost owner Shorty McGinnis claimed that among the things stolen from his place was a very expensive diamond. This diamond matches one that Billy Tuve has recently tried to pawn. Unfortunately, Billy’s prints are all over a jewelry store that’s just been robbed, and the police suspect that that’s where he got the diamond from. Deputy Sheriff Cowboy Dashee is Billy Tuve’s cousin, and knows that the boy is a little slow, but has a good heart. Sergeant Jim Chee readily agrees to help Dashee discover the truth because they’re friends...and Chee’s fiance, Bernie joins in.

Both Tuve and McGinnis have very similar tales as to how they got their diamond...Tuve and a man named Reno (who traded the diamond to McGinnis) both traded an old shaman for a diamond. Chee and the others are not the only ones interested in Tuve’s story. Many years before, two planes crashed midair over the canyon. One of the passengers had a briefcase cuffed to his arm. The arm was sheered off of the man’s body, and though rescuers saw it, they couldn’t get to it. Joanna Craig wants this arm, because it will prove beyond any doubt that the man who owned it...and was carrying the her father, giving her access to a humongous fortune. The fortune itself is secondary, Joanna could never get over how her mother was treated by her husband-to-be’s family. The fortune went to an unscrupulous lawyer who has sent people of his own to stop Joanna from reclaiming the arm and her fortune.

In this entry in the series, we have all the main players gathered together. Much of it’s not just about the search and Joanna Craig, but about Jim Chee and Bernie. She loves him, but she’s not positive that he will be the kind of husband she needs him to be thanks to a conversation with her mother. She wonders if he’ll always be her sergeant, even though she no longer works under him, or if they’ll be equals. Jim Chee entertains no such worries. He loves Bernie, and even though he loves where he lives, he’s willing to look at other sites to build their home on. We get a small glimpse at something we’ve missed before: the traditional expectations of a young Navajo couple, where they go to live, how they make their family. I thought it was interesting that Chee is considered to be joining her family, where in my culture it’s sort of the other way around. Bernie is Chee’s first traditional love, as we’re reminded when about his past girlfriends, and the only one who accepts him for the way he is.

As part of the story we also get to explore a fabulous canyon (did you know there are pink rattlesnakes) while in search of the diamonds.

The mystery is fairly straightforward...for the reader, we know pretty much what's going on, we just don’t know how we’ll get there, or who will survive the journey. It’s more of an action story, and fun one at that.

I always look forward to spending time with these people. Hillerman’s characters are the type you’d love to sit down and have coffee with while you listen to their stories.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 69 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Skeleton Man at HarperCollins

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"The Sinister Pig"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUN 18, 2003)

The Sinister Pig by Tony Hillerman

Carl Mankin knows that the job is not without its risks, but the money is too good to ignore. Hired to discover the hows and whys behind an oil scam, he plans to go undercover to Four Corners New Mexico, where he'll take a job and investigate the situation. All that he knows is that someone has managed to create a bypass that has cheated the Native American people out of billions of dollars worth of royalties. Whatever it is he learned, we'll never know, because it got him killed.

Read excerptCowboy Dashee, now in the Federal Bureau of Land Management, and Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police are at the scene, investigating Carl's death. The corpse provides few clues...and whatever clues that Carl Mankin's past could provide are soon buried by the FBI, who have inexplicably decided to take the investigation away from the local offices...and pretty much kicking Chee off the case. Of course, this isn't enough for Jim Chee, especially since Bernie Manuelito, who left the police for the Border Patrol, seems to be getting deeply involved. Bernie, trying to do her job, follows a truck with Mexican plates to a ranch filled with exotic animals, raised to be hunted. Her boss tells her that she has to avoid this place, that they have a deal...then takes her photo, a photo that someone tells her later is being passed around in some very dangerous places. Chee, no fool, soon gets the Legendary Joe Leaphorn in on the case, and the three of them try to figure out who the sinister pig is, and what his true interest in the pipelines is.

There is no one else who can write this kind of book...Hillerman's still on top of his game, providing us with an entertaining, suspenseful read. There are many things that make this book special. First of all, the characters are wonderful. He captures the nuances of the Navajo and Hopi, creating people that you'd love to share a cup off coffee with while giving you a great deal of respect for these beautiful cultures. Even though the action can be really exciting, you also have points where the companionship between reader and character is soothing. Watching Leaphorn work with his maps, or Chee carefully tracking down clues is like meeting old friends. Also, Jim Chee maundering over his feelings for Bernie...and Bernie's shy attempts to find out if he cares for her, are really sweet and endearing. Bernie's examinations of the letters he exchanges with her, and the words he uses, remind me of myself, or any single girl trying to learn the way to read a guy's mind. Also, the letters aren't just part of the subplot...they become part of the bigger plot, weaving the story together tightly.

I thought that the mystery was very well done. The main bad guy is the kind you love to hate...who wouldn't despise a corrupt politician? Yet, his henchman is an unusual and interesting character. Winsor's plans are sinister indeed, and it will take a lot of clever work by our guys to figure out his true intentions.

This is the sixteenth book in a line of books that have never failed to illuminate or satisfy, and it lives up to the standards of many of its brothers and sisters.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 117 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Sinister Pig at

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"The Wailing Wind"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUN 2, 2002)

"It's a tale told about a lost woman, or about a lost woman with a lost child whose sorrowful cries can be heard at night." Louisa said..."The Wailing Woman Legend comes into play at last, right?"

"Not quite yet." Leaphorn said. "And maybe we should call it the wailing wind legend. Question what, or who was doing the wailing..."

The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman

Officer Bernadette "Bernie" Manuelito of the Navajo Tribal police has a problem. On a routine check of an abandoned vehicle, she finds a dead body curled up quietly, no blood in evidence. Thinking that it was death of natural causes, she follows the procedure of such cases, only to find that the she has messed up a murder scene, and is now in trouble with both the FBI and her own boss. To make matters worse, she took a tobacco can from the grass at the scene to collect the odd burrs and seeds from the victim's clothes, only to find a mound of placer gold dust inside. It is important evidence that will get her and her supervisor, Sergeant Jim Chee, into even more trouble.

She goes to Jim Chee for help. He's already gotten a bit of trouble from the FBI over his officer's actions, but he takes the tin, and offers to help. This, combined with evidence from the scene prompt him to seek the help of legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn. Leaphorn has been enjoying the dubious pleasures of retirement, but willingly lets himself be brought back in, because this evidence links the present murder to a case he worked years ago and can't get out of his mind.

A few years ago, Wiley Denton killed Marvin McKay in self defense. Supposedly McKay tried to con the wealthy mine enthusiast with a fake map telling the location of the legendary Golden Calf Mine. Denton confessed, did his time and is now free. The only question left was what ever happened to Denton's beautiful young wife? By all accounts she loved him dearly, and would never have betrayed him with the slick con man. Unfortunately the police, unable to find any trace, decided that she had to have been in on the swindle, and ran away from the anger of her husband. To Leaphorn, an incurable romantic, it just doesn't add up. When Wiley Denton himself asks Leaphorn to look into it, he is happy to.

The mystery of this book is three fold: Who killed the man Bernie found? Where is Linda Denton? What really occurred that Halloween night years ago, when a group of kids crossed the grounds of Fort Wingate to hear a woman wailing on the wind?

The beauty of this series is not only the mystery - indeed, there are twists and turns a plenty, as well as cleverly hidden clues. The magic of the story is more in the setting and characters. When you read this book, you see things through the eyes of Navajo characters, learning about their culture, their religion, the way they interact. You learn about respectful pauses, and why hogans always face the sun. You learn about the chindi - when you die, the good of you leaves, and the bad lingers, like a ghost. All these details add up to a rich portrait, giving you an understanding of these amazing people. Joe Leaphorn is calm, thoughtful, and ever in love with his wife. Jim Chee also thinks things through slowly, reasoning at all angles --- usually. Relative newcomer to the series Bernie Manuelito is refreshing, especially after certain past love interests of Chee's. Sometimes I don't care for Hillerman's women, but Bernie is just as thoughtful as her companions, with a wonderful interest in botany that comes in handy when she needs to track down where the victim was killed. Each of the three pull their weight equally, each solving major piece of the puzzle. Hillerman resolves the questions with answers that are quite surprising.

This is the fifteenth book in the series, but it does stand alone. There is a linear progression to the books. We age with Leaphorn and Chee, and change with them. Reading this book ahead of some of the others in the series will give away some small plot points, but it doesn't detract from the story.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 81 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Wailing Wind at HarperCollins

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"The First Eagle"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark APR 6, 2000)

The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman

Jim Chee is still in his first month as administrator in charge of the Tuba City Navaho Police subagency unit. He has a problem with one of his men, Bernie Kinsman, who was supposed to meet him first thing that morning, but has blown his boss off leaving a message explaining that he had to run out to Yells Back Butte to catch a Hopi who's been poaching eagles. And now he's requested back up, a tough request for a territory so wide spread. (Hillerman dedicates this book to six Navaho Tribal Police officers killed in the line of duty, since 1975, due to lack of coverage and backup, for this territory.)

So Jim Chee heads out to Yells Back Butte, more than a little annoyed, since he believes that Kinsman is just excited about catching this Hopi and is being a bit amateur about by blacking out communications. When Jim finally finds Kinsman, Kinsman is laying face down on the ground with his head crushed in and the young Eagle-poaching Hopi squatting next to him. Almost as good as catching Robert Jano red-handed, Chee arrests him.

Meanwhile, former Lieutenant, now private detective, Leaphorn is being asked to look into the disappearance of Catherine Pollard, a "flea catcher." She works for the Arizona Health Department helping to control the recent outbreak of the bubonic plague by testing the fleas on the back of prairie dogs. It seems that Kinsman and Jano may not have been the only ones on Yells Back Butte that morning, since Pollard was last known to be heading that way on that day as well.

To complicate matters further, Janet Pete, Jim Chee's (ex?) fiance, has returned from Washington DC once again and is the assigned Defense Attorney for Robert Jano. Naturally it is Pete's job to stir up doubt about her client's guilt, but in this case, it works to motivate Chee to investigate further. If Jano is found guilty, he will be given the death sentence, something that Chee does not agree with, and certainly does not want him to die if he is innocent.

Hillerman once again has Leaphorn and Chee gathering facts independently and coming together for the critical and surprising ending. Hillerman ties together scientific studies with traditional Navajo superstitions (skinwalkers) for a very interesting look at a little publicized health problem, one that could kill off all of humanity.

I have yet to read a Hillerman novel and not want to visit, maybe even move to that area of the country.

  • Amazon reader rating: from 81 reviews

Read the first chapter of The First Eagle at HarperCollin

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"The Fallen Man"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark AUG 8, 1998)

The Fallen Man by Tony HillermanA skeleton is discovered 1,700 feet above the base of a sacred mountain in the four corners Indian reservation. Joe Leaphorn comes out of retirement to help investigate the case, believed to be the rich Anglo named Hal Breedlove who fell while trying to climb Ship Rock eleven years earlier. The Legendary former Lieutenant Leaphorn doesn't believe an Indian would climb the sacred mountain, nor would one kill on it. But then when it comes to mining rights, land claims and money, well, then its anyone's call. Meanwhile Jim Chee is busy on another case, but as usual his path crosses with Leaphorn's who is both his mentor and his thorn if only because he feels a bit incompetent in his presence.

Hillerman always keeps the personal side going for both of these main characters. Although Leaphorn is still mourning the loss of his wife Emma, as the book ends, we find that he might be starting a new love interest. As for Jim Chee, it finally seems that he's going to marry Janet Pete. To impress her and to earn more money, he applies for the position of full time Lieutenant. But is Janet Pete really ready to give up Washington D.C.?

When we were going down the Intracoastal Waterway and would stop to explore a town, a successful stop always included picking up one Hillerman book at a used bookstore.  Since I started working on this web site, I've been meaning to pick up The Fallen Man and finally acquired a copy.  I've been reading Hillerman's books for some time now and I always enjoy them.  I must have missed Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn more than I thought, because this book seemed like I was visiting long lost friends.  This series isn't the most intellectually stimulating, but I enjoy them because they bring me to the Navajo Indian reservations.  These fast paced mysteries, teach a little of the Navajo ways, especially of the conflict as Leaphorn and Chee try to work in white man's jobs, but maintain their Navaho ways. The Fallen Man is a good first introduction to Hillerman if you have not read his novels before or it has been awhile. If you like it, try to read the older ones in order; these characters evolve with each new novel. 

  • Amazon reader rating: from 32 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Fallen Man at HarperCollins

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Bibliography: (with links to

Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn Series:

Other books:

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About the Author:

Tony HillermanTony Hillerman was born in 1925, in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma. Although he was raised among the Pottawatomie and Seminole Indians and studied at an Indian boarding school, Tony Hillerman is not Native American. He attended Oklahoma State University (1943), the University of Oklahoma (B.A. 1946), and the University of New Mexico (M.A. 1966). He worked as a journalist in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico (1948-63), lived in Albuquerque, and taught journalism at the University of New Mexico (1976-85). Hillerman is a past president of the Mystery Writers of America and has received their Edgar and Grand Master awards. His other honors include the Center for the American Indian's Ambassador Award, the Silver Spur Award for best novel set in the West, and the Navajo Tribe's Special Friend Award.

He lived with his wife, Marie, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He died on Sunday, October 26, 2008 at the age of 83. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014