Tony Hillerman, author of the acclaimed Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels and creator of two of the unlikeliest of literary heroes — Navajo police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee — died Sunday of pulmonary failure. He was 83.
Hillerman’s breakthrough book was the 1987 novel Skinwalkers and he went on to write 18 books in the Navajo series.
Among the numerous accolades he received over the years, the most dear to Hillerman’s heart was the honour bestowed upon him by the Navajo Naton in 1987 as Special Friend of the Dineh “for his honest, accurate portrayal of Navajo people and their culture”.
“Skinwalkers,” which is generally considered his breakthrough book, won the Western Writers of America’s Golden Spur Award in 1987. In 1991, after solidifying the Navajo Tribal Police series with “A Thief of Time” (his own favorite novel), “Talking God” and “Coyote Waits,” he received the Mystery Writers of America’s highest honor, its Grandmaster Award.
The recognition that gladdened him most, however, was the status of Special Friend of the Dineh conferred on him in 1987 by the Navajo Nation for his honest, accurate portrayal of Navajo people and their culture. It was also a special source of pride to him that his books are taught on reservation high schools and colleges.
“Good reviews delight me when I get them,” he once said. “But I am far more delighted by being voted the most popular author by the students of St. Catherine Indian school, and even more by middle-aged Navajos who tell me that reading my mysteries revived their children’s interest in the Navajo Way.”