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Tony Hillerman: A Life
Coming in October from the University of Oklahoma Press
The first major biography of the ground-breaking mystery writer Tony Hillerman who created the unforgettable Navajo Police detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.
This comprehensive biography—written with the cooperation of the family—traces the rise of Tony Hillerman from his birth in the tiny hamlet of Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, to international fame and fortune for his beloved mysteries set on the Navajo Nation. But, as Tony Hillerman: A Life reveals, the author’s greatest achievement was not the writing of eighteen spellbinding mysteries. Rather it was his use of the popular genre to unlock the mystery of the Navajo culture for non-native Americans. Just as Mary Renault’s earlier novels did with Ancient Greece, Hillerman’s books introduced millions of readers to the Diné way of life in a respectful and compelling manner. In the words of the Los Angeles Times, Hillerman “reinvented the mystery novel as a venue for the exploration and celebration of Native American history, culture, and identity.”
The book recounts Hillerman’s exceptionally engaging life and details the creation of the iconic police detectives drawing on an untapped collection of Hillerman’s papers, extensive interviews with his family and friends, research in archives of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington, DC, and travel in the Navajo Nation. Tony Hillerman intimately captures the author’s childhood during the Great Depression, his near-death experience in World War II, his work in the trenches of journalism, his time as an inspiring professor, and the blossoming of his writing career. The work explores how Hillerman’s novels dramatically and irrevocably broke the traditional formula for mysteries. The exhaustive research for the book also uncovers Hillerman’s affliction with PTSD and its connection to his enchantment with Navajo spirituality. The unflinching account of Hillerman’s life celebrates his creative powers as well as evaluates claims made toward the end of his life that he engaged in cultural appropriation.
Filled with never-before told stories, Tony Hillerman provides a timely appreciation of the work of the Edgar-winning author with more than 20 million copies of his books in print that will thrill his fans and introduce a new generation of readers to his significant body of work.