First generation: Tony Hillerman’s body of work includes 18 novels in the Navajo Tribal Police series, which stars protagonists Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee and began with The Blessing Way in 1970. He was named a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, akin to a lifetime achievement award, in 1991.
Second generation: Anne Hillerman continued the series after her father’s death in 2008, with Spider Woman’s Daughter (Harper, 2013) and Rock with Wings (Harper, 2015). A third, as-yet-untitled entry is scheduled for January 2016.
Collaboration: Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Leaphorn and Chee by Anne Hillerman, photos by Don Strel, introduction by Tony Hillerman (Harper, 2009).
Anne Hillerman, a food critic for the Albuquerque Journal, has been a journalist for more than 20 years, but the seeds of that career were planted even earlier. Her father, the late mystery writer Tony Hillerman, worked for decades as a newspaper reporter and editor, and later as a journalism professor and department chair at the University of New Mexico.
“Dad would bring the newspaper home from work each evening and talk about different [articles],” she says. “I always loved stories—hearing them, reading them, and writing my own.”
Anne also has several nonfiction books to her credit, including Santa Fe Flavors (Gibbs Smith, 2009) and Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Leaphorn and Chee, which features photos by her husband, Don Strel, showcasing the New Mexico terrain that figures so prominently in her father’s series.
Her long familiarity with the world and characters Tony created not only informed Landscape, but also helped give her confidence when she took on the Navajo Tribal Police series after his death, turning a minor character into one on par with Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.
“I’d suggested to Dad that he do something more with [Chee’s girlfriend, later wife] Bernadette Manuelito,” Anne explains, “and raise her beyond the girlfriend, bringer-of-coffee, one-who-gets-rescued status.” Her father reacted favorably to the idea but never had the chance to bring it to fruition, so Anne did just that, making Officer Manuelito an equal partner in crime solving.
That step notwithstanding, Anne experienced some trepidation in taking up her father’s mantle. “The thought of the millions of fans who knew and loved his work did intimidate me,” she says. “Unlike most first-time novelists, I knew my debut would get attention. I also knew that Dad’s fans would be naturally suspicious of the new Hillerman following in his large footsteps. Dad’s success brought both a gift and a challenge.”
Challenge accepted: Anne’s first entry in the series, 2013’s Spider Woman’s Daughter, has sold more than 88,000 copies in hardcover and mass market, per Nielsen BookScan, and was nominated for a 2014 Dilys Award from the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.