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Tony Hillerman Biography

(1925– ), The Blessing Way, Skinwalkers, A Thief of Time, Talking God, Dance Hall of the Dead

navajo indian life heart

American crime novelist, born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, educated among Pottawatomie and Seminole Indians and at Oklahoma State University. After distinguished war service with the US Army, he became a journalist and later taught journalism at the University of New Mexico. The main purpose of Hillerman's tales of mystery and suspense is to engage readers with the religions, cultures, and values of Navajo and Pueblo Indians. At the heart of each novel lies a conflict between the circumspect and oblique customs of Indian life and the harsh demands of modern existence. Since 1970, Hillerman has produced a series of deftly written police procedural novels set in the Navajo reservations in Arizona, featuring two members of the Navajo Tribal police. Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn stands between his original culture and its more ‘sophisticated’ rival, while Sergeant Jim Chee makes greater efforts to reintegrate himself into the more traditional Navajo way of life. He constantly returns to Indian beliefs and fears, with witchcraft dominating The Blessing Way (1970) and Skinwalkers (1988). The sense of loss and oppression is dramatized in A Thief of Time (1988) through the exploitation of Indian artefacts, and in Talking God (1990) Navajo life is seen as an increasingly sterile museum piece. In Dance Hall of the Dead (1973) and The Ghostway (1985) Indian dances and ceremonies are elaborately described and integrated within the plot. Sacred Clowns (1994) is a recent Leaphorn novel.

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