About the Author Tony Hillerman
Tony Hillerman (May 27, 1925 – October 26, 2008) was an award-winning American author of detective novels and non-fiction works best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels. Some of his works were made into big-screen and television movies.
Anthony Grove Hillerman was born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, and was a decorated combat veteran of World War II, having served as a mortarman in the 103rd Infantry Division and having earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. He worked as a journalist from 1948 to 1962, then earned a master’s degree. He taught journalism from 1966 to 1987 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he resided with his wife until his death in 2008. Hillerman, a consistently bestselling author, was ranked as New Mexico’s 22nd wealthiest man in 1996.
Hillerman wrote 18 books in his Navajo series and he wrote more than 30 books total, among them a memoir and books about the Southwest, its beauty and its history. His literary honors were awarded for his Navajo books. Hillerman books have been translated into eight languages, among them Danish and Japanese.
Hillerman’s writing is noted for the cultural details he provides for the people he writes about: Hopi, Zuni, European-American, federal agents, and especially Navajo Tribal Police. His works in nonfiction and in fiction reflect his appreciation of the natural wonders of the American Southwest and his appreciation of its people, particularly the Navajo.
His mystery novels are set in the Four Corners area of New Mexico and Arizona, sometimes reaching into Colorado and Utah and beyond, sometimes to Washington, DC, Los Angeles and other areas. The protagonists are Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo tribal police. Lt. Leaphorn was introduced in Hillerman’s first novel, The Blessing Way (1970). The second book in the series, Dance Hall of the Dead (1973), won a 1974 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Novel. In 1991, Hillerman received the MWA’s Grand Master Award. Hillerman has also received the Nero Award (for Coyote Waits) and the Navajo Tribe’s Special Friends of the Diné Award.
Hillerman repeatedly acknowledged his debt to an earlier series of mystery novels written by the British-born Australian author Arthur W. Upfield and set among tribal aborigines in remote desert regions of tropical and subtropical Australia. The Upfield novels appeared first in 1928 and featured a half-European, half-aboriginal Australian hero, Detective-inspector Napoleon (Bony) Bonaparte who worked with deep understanding of tribal traditions. The character was based on the real-life achievements of an aborigine known as Tracker Leon whom Upfield had met during his years in the Australian bush.
Hillerman discussed his debt to Upfield in many interviews and in his introduction to the posthumous 1984 reprint of Upfield’s A Royal Abduction. In the introduction he described the seductive appeal of the descriptions in Upfield’s crime novels. It was descriptions both of the harsh outback areas and of “the people who somehow survived upon them” that lured him. “When my own Jim Chee of the Navaho Tribal Police unravels a mystery because he understands the ways of his people, when he reads the signs in the sandy bottom of a reservation arroyo, he is walking in the tracks Bony made 50 years ago.”
Upfield and Hillerman are recognized as pioneers of what is now known as the tribal mystery genre.
Hillerman died on October 26, 2008, of pulmonary failure in Albuquerque at the age of 83.