Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman was a critically acclaimed American author of a series of detective novels. The Navajo series was his most notable work. The series focuses on the adventures of Detectives Leaphorn and Chee of the Navajo Tribal police force. Several of his books within this series have been adapted into successful television films that evoke the mystery and beauty saturated in Hillerman’s novels.

Early Life

Anthony (Tony) Grove Hillerman was born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma in 1925. He was the youngest of three children. His father was a farmer and store keeper. From 1930-1938, Tony Hillerman attended St. Mary’s Academy, a boarding school that was primarily for Native American girls. It was here that he developed an understanding and appreciation of the Native American culture which influenced the subject matter of his books. In high school he attended another primarily Native American school, Konawa High School. After a brief stint in college, Hillerman returned home to the farm to work. In World War II, he became a decorated war veteran, serving as a mortar man for the 103rd Infantry Division. While in the military, Hillerman received a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and a Purple Heart.

After World War II, he worked as a journalist (1948-1962). Tony Hillerman then attained a master’s degree. With his degree, Hillerman taught journalism at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here Tony Hillerman began his career as a superb novelist. He first became famous for his unique, supernatural Navajo series, which featured 18 books. Throughout his career, Hillerman wrote more than 30 books. He was also noted for writing several memoirs about his life in the Southwest and the history of the Southwest. As a result, Tony Hillerman was ranked as the 22nd wealthiest man in New Mexico in 1996.


Hillerman is one of the most decorated writers in New Mexico history. He has received a number of literary honors for his critically acclaimed Navajo series. He was awarded the Parris Award by the Southwest Writer’s Workshop for his dedication to improving the writing careers for other writers. Hillerman’s work is known around the United States and throughout the world. His books have been translated into more than eight languages including, Dutch and Japanese.

Tony Hillerman’s work is known for the flawless cultural details he presents in the series, particularly the Zuni and Hopi tribes. Much of the content of his books, deal with the inter-relationships of the Zuni and Hopi tribes, federal agents, the Navajo Tribal Police, and Europen-Americans. Both his non-fiction and fictional work is a reflection of his childhood respect and admiration for the beauty of the American Southwest, the Native American culture, and the Navajo people.

Hillerman’s mystery novels take place in the American Southwest. The areas of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado are the main areas, but his mysteries extend to Los Angeles and all the way to Washington, DC. The main character in his Navajo series is Joe Leaphorn, and Jim Chee, two officers in the Navajo Tribal police. Hillerman’s first novel and smash success was The Blessing Way (1970), and introduced the universe of the Navajo Tribal police and the character Joe Leaphorn. His second novel, Dance Hall of the Dead (1973), received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Hillerman received the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award in 1991. Later Hillerman received Navajo

Tribes’ Special Friends of Dineh Award for his representation of the Navajo people in an award winning novel series. He also received the Nero Award for his novel Coyote Waits.


Hillerman has always acknowledged the earlier writings of author Arthur W. Upfield that is set among the aborigine people in Australia. The Upfield novels were published in 1928 and featured Detective Napoleon Bonaparte. The character, along with his sidekick, investigated supernatural events in the desert.

Books in order of publication by series:

Leaphorn and Chee Books

The Blessing Way(1970) 
Dance Hall of the Dead(1973) 
Listening Woman(1978) 
People of Darkness(1980) 
The Dark Wind(1982) 
The Ghostway(1984) 
A Thief of Time(1988) 
Talking God(1989) 
Coyote Waits(1990) 
Sacred Clowns(1993) 
The Fallen Man(1996) 
The First Eagle(1998) 
Hunting Badger(1999) 
The Wailing Wind(2002) 
The Sinister Pig(2003) 
Skeleton Man(2004) 
The Shape Shifter(2006) 

Standalone Novels

The Fly on the Wall(1971) 
Finding Moon(1995) 

Children’s Books

The Boy Who Made Dragonfly(1972) 
Buster Mesquite’s Cowboy Band(1973) 

Best American Mystery Stories Anthologies

The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century(2000)


The Best of the West(1991) 
The Mysterious West(1994) 
The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories(1996) 
A New Omnibus of Crime(2009) 

Non-Fiction Books

The Great Taos Bank Robbery(1973) 
New Mexico, Rio Grande and Other Essays(1975) 
The Spell of New Mexico(1984) 
Indian Country(1987) 
Hillerman Country(1991) 
Seldom Disappointed(2001) 
Kilroy Was There(2004)
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