Anne Hillerman, the daughter of the late Tony Hillerman, revives her father’s classic Navaho cop series with Spider Woman’s Daughter.
Was it daunting to take on such iconic characters as Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee?
Well, yes! My dad did such a good job of establishing and developing them over the years, I felt as though Chee and Leaphorn were my adopted uncles. That’s partly why I focused on Bernadette Manuelito, a minor character in which I saw lots of potential. I wanted to present her as a competent, persistent policewoman. I had fun in Spider Woman’s Daughter creating the personal side of her relationship with Chee and inventing some characters that play a major role in Bernie’s life—her mother and a kid sister. I hope to use them again.
It sounds as if you plan more novels with Bernie in a lead role.
I was fortunate enough to get a two-book contract, so I’m having fun working on the second installment featuring Bernie as a crime solver. Dad introduced her as a rookie in 1996’s The Fallen Man, and used her in all the subsequent novels, developing both her skills as an officer and the attraction between Bernie and Jim Chee. When I was rereading Dad’s books as research for Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with an American Legend, it seemed to me that she was a character with unrealized potential. Dad used her well as a supporting character, but never let her actually solve the crime.
Did Tony Hillerman’s Landscape, a nonfiction book published in 2009, play a part in your decision to continue the series?
Gosh yes. To create it, I started by closely rereading all of Dad’s novels. Since that book has lots of photos of the places Dad wrote about and loved, I was looking for those juicy landscape descriptions he was famous for as I read. In the process, I fell in love with the series all over again.
Did any of your father’s novels have a particularly strong influence on yours?
I loved all of Dad’s books and admired the way he was able to include the landscape as part of the story, making it almost a character. Chaco Canyon is one of my favorite places in the Southwest, and Dad used it in one of his best books, A Thief of Time. I knew for this first novel I needed a setting that would not only work for the story but also give the book a firm footing in the beautiful country that Dad loved. Chaco Canyon is rich with unsolved mysteries, too, so that made it my first choice.