The author of eighteen spellbinding detective novels set on the Navajo Nation, Tony Hillerman simultaneously transformed a traditional genre and unlocked the mysteries of the Navajo culture to an audience of millions. His best-selling novels added Navajo Tribal Police detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee to the pantheon of American fictional detectives.

Morris offers a balanced portrait of Hillerman’s personal and professional life and provides a timely appreciation of his work. In intimate detail, Morris captures the author’s early years in Depression-era Oklahoma; his near-death experience in World War II; his sixty-year marriage to Marie; his family life, including six children, five of them adopted; his work in the trenches of journalism; his affliction with PTSD and its connection to his enchantment with Navajo spirituality; and his ascension as one of America’s best-known authors of mysteries. Further, Morris uncovers the almost accidental invention of Hillerman’s iconic detective Joe Leaphorn and the circumstances that led to the addition of Jim Chee as his partner.

Hillerman’s novels were not without controversy. Morris examines the charges of cultural appropriation leveled at the author toward the end of his life. Yet, for many readers, including many Native Americans, Hillerman deserves critical acclaim for his knowledgeable and sensitive portrayal of Diné (Navajo) history, culture, and identity.

At the time of Hillerman’s death, more than 20 million copies of his books were in print, and his novels inspired Robert Redford to adapt several of them to film. In weaving together all the elements of the author’s life, Morris drew on the untapped collection of the author’s papers, extensive archival research, interviews with friends, colleagues, and family, as well as travel in the Navajo Nation. Filled with never-before-told anecdotes and fresh insights, Tony Hillerman will thrill the author’s fans and awaken new interest in his life and literary legacy.

About The Author
James McGrath Morris is an award-winning and New York Times best-selling author. His books include The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Pasos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War; Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press; and Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Reviews & Praise
“Here at last we have a biography of one of the true masters of detective fiction, and one of the most popular and perspicacious writers ever to call the Desert Southwest home. In this scrupulous work, James McGrath Morris artfully guides us into Tony Hillerman’s personal and literary worlds—and taps into the peculiar magic of this beloved novelist’s work. Diehard fans and neophytes alike will gain intriguing insights into how Hillerman was able to spin those unforgettable mysteries set in the red rock kingdom of the Navajo.”—Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War IIs Greatest Rescue Mission

From James McGrath Morris—author of superb biographies—comes this remarkably rich, absorbing, and varied life of beloved mystery writer Tony Hillerman. With his canny eye for the telling detail, Morris tracks the author's evolution from a poor Oklahoma boy growing up alongside members of the Citizen Potawatomie Nation to a reporter plying the streets of small towns and New Mexico’s state capital, a journey also marked by harrowing combat in the Battle of the Bulge. Tony Hillerman is packed with insight into how a journalist revamped the mystery genre even as he became one of its most original and gifted practitioners, introducing readers to the extraordinary lifeways and beliefs of the Navajo and other Southwestern peoples. Providing a deft and nuanced look at issues surrounding cultural appropriation, this is a biography that becomes, as Hillerman termed facts transformed by imagination, “the stuff of art.”—Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

“James McGrath Morris’s Tony Hillerman is beautiful and fascinating biography, not just the life of a remarkable writer but also a vivid depiction of the world that Hillerman grew up in—the American West, ranch and church, the war—and his career as a reporter and novelist that culminated, late in life, in international fame and best-sellerdom. Hillerman was a huge inspiration to me as a young writer. I truly love this book.”—Douglas Preston, author of The Lost City of the Monkey God and the Agent Pendergast series

“A towering figure in the realm of mystery fiction like Tony Hillerman is worthy of a biography of monumental proportions, a book that can encompass the grace, talent, and humanity of not only the man but his incredible body of work. James McGrath Morris’s Tony Hillerman: A Life is that book—one of the most thoughtful, detailed, and captivating biographies I’ve read in a very long time.”—Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire Mysteries

Book Information
23 b&w illus
352 Pages
Hardcover 978-0-8061-7598-0
e-pub 978-0-8061-7865-3
Published October 2021
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