Tony Hillerman: A Public Life


128 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55022-214-7
DDC 813'.54






Reviewed by Graham Adams, Jr.

Graham Adams, Jr., is a professor of American history at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.


Increased public awareness of Native Americans over the last two decades
accounts in part for the popularity of Tony Hillerman’s 11 mystery
novels, all of which deal with the Navajo people. Technology, Hillerman
believes, has alienated the individual from nature; the interest in
Native culture represents a yearning to reconnect the links between
humans and their environment.

Early in his life, Hillerman developed an abiding concern for Navajo
civilization, which led him to a lifetime of studying its customs,
religion, and values. He grew to admire the Navajo emphasis on family,
their respect for the dignity of women, their sense of humor, their
stoic endurance, and their lack of attention to material possessions.
Two major figures in Hillerman’s novels are Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee,
both Navajo police officers. These men, biographer John Sobol notes, are
loners who enforce the white man’s law only to extent that it does not
violate the Navajo way of life; each stands outside of his community
while contributing to its well-being. Hillerman’s characters, Sobol
observes, face moral dilemmas that lead them to question their ancient
faith when it conflicts with modern society.

This sensitive and perceptive biography captures the essence of
Hillerman’s message, which is that while people differ in many ways,
“[they] are all the same under the skin. ... Those who violate the
absolute principle of our common bond, who struggle to oppress others
... are to be condemned. ... It comes down to a single word: respect.”


Sobol, John., “Tony Hillerman: A Public Life,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024,