Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Nation Police novels are some of the most famous American mystery novels of the 20th century. With 18 books through much of the 20th century.
After his first novel, ‘The Blessing Way’ was published in 1970, Hillerman went on to write many more books throughout his life, with a few years between each one.
His books follow the stories of Leaphorn and Chee, two members of the Navajo Tribal Police Force who attempt to solve mysteries and bring murderers to justice.
So let’s say you want to pick up the life’s work of Tony Hillerman, and want to know where to begin! With so many books to choose from, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.
If this sounds like you, then don’t panic! We’re here to help. In this article, we’re going to give you a definitive guide that will outline the best order to read his books.
We’ve also included a short Frequently Asked Questions section that will offer you some answers to the most common questions about Tony Hillerman.
So let’s get right into it!
Just a short note before we begin—we’ve added small summaries with each novel in the series. We won’t be going into any plot-specific spoilers, but there are some small series-wide spoilers that you may want to consider avoiding!
The blessing way is the best novel to begin with. This novel will be your first step into the Leaphorn & Chee series.
When a horrific homicide is discovered in the desert, we follow Navajo Tribal Police as they search for a killer known as the ‘Wolf-Witch.’ This is a great introduction to the series and to the life’s work of Tony Hillerman.
The next novel in the Leaphorn & Chee series follows Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn searching for two missing Native American boys.
Next up we have Listening Woman: A Leaphorn & Chee Novel. It’s the third part of the series that follows another murder mystery, one that is complicated by supernatural myths and horrific crimes.
Next up we have Leaphorn and Chee novel that focuses mostly on the secondary character, sergeant Jim Chee. Walking through the merciless southwestern landscape, he must fight for survival against an assassin.
This novel follows Jim Chee once again as he investigates a murder case that seems to be connected to a previous, million-dollar drug bust he has previously been barred from.
The Ghostway is the 6th entry into the Leaphorn and Chase series and follows Jim Chee as he searches for justice through the dark underbelly of modern Los Angeles.
The 7th entry of the Leaphorn and Chee series sees the series switch focus back to both officers. After Jim Chee is almost murdered, Leaphorn searches for the connection between a series of terrible murders.
This is a great read if you’re interested in occult activity and the legend of skinwalkers.
By this point in his career, Hillerman was really hitting his stride as an author. In the 8th novel following Leaphorn and Chee, the two officers find themselves following a psychotic killer to an ancient Indian ruin where more mysteries await them.
This entry into the series sees two seemingly disconnected cases being worked on in tandem. However, as the series progresses, it becomes clear that there is something shocking that links them.
Coyote Waits is the 10th entry into the series and this one sees the Najavo Police officers trying to find the killer of one of their good friends. This is one of the longer books in the series at nearly 400 pages long, but it’s a gripping read!
In one of Hillerman’s most intriguing premises, this novel deals with our main characters searching to solve the mystery of a clown bludgeoned to death.
This is another long book that reaches almost 400 pages, but a great one to read if you’re a fan of page-turning mysteries!
After a 4 year break, Hillerman returned with a story that deals with Joe Leaphorn, coming out of retirement to try and solve a decade-old mystery.
Next up, we have a story that follows a case that becomes deeper the longer they look, involving witches, viruses, and clashing cultures.
After a raid on a gambling casino, longtime colleagues must launch an investigation to find the people responsible in a deadly and thrilling manhunt.
The first Hillerman novel of the 2000s sees the two detectives searching for the solution to a long cold case. When something new comes up, they find themselves searching the Southwestern hills for threads of previous cases that will unveil shocking secrets.
Next up we have the story of a murder case that opens up into a dark spiral of conspiracy, greed, and lies—culminating in Jim Chee searching for answers amid tensions between the Navajo Nation and the federal government.
This could be Hillerman’s most reflective and political novel.
Skeleton Man is the 17th novel in Tony Hillerman’s series and takes Joe Leaphorn out of retirement once again to help solve a complicated and mysterious case.
This story takes the reader on a journey with Joe Leaphorn trying to crack what he calls his ‘last case.’
This is a mystery that will take the reader through a solo adventure with Leaphorn as he picks through the case files and searches for a murderer thought long dead.
After Tony Hillerman’s death in 2008, the Leaphorn and Chee series was continued by his daughter, Anne Hillerman. This is a great treat for fans as it means the story gets to live on, even after Tony Hillerman passed.
Although they are slightly different in style (as would be expected), Anne Hillerman has a total understanding of the characters and they are a great continuation for fans!
Here is a list of each one that she has written since taking up the reins of the series.
Although much of Tony Hillerman’s writing focused on the Leaphorn & Chee novels, he also wrote a few stand-alones. We would suggest reading them in the following order.
So that was a list of all 25 novels in the Leaphorn & Chee novels, and a few of Tony Hillerman’s standalone works.
We hope that this guide has given you an understanding of the preferred reading order, as well as some of what might be in store for you when you delve into this series.
The Leaphorn & Chee novels are a series of gripping mystery novels (If you like Mystery Novels, check out the works of Louise Penny) that celebrate and explore the Navajo culture. If you still have some questions, make sure to check out our short FAQ section below!
Tony Hillerman was born on the 27th of May, 1925. His place of birth is Sacred Heart, Oklahoma. He served in World War II in the European theatre and later became a journalist.
He picked up writing novels later in his life and saw great success with his Leaphorn & Chee mystery series.
Tony Hillerman was an American author known for his mystery novels set in the Navajo Nation, featuring detectives Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. He wrote 18 novels in the series and his work is considered to be a prominent example of the “regional mystery” subgenre. He died on October 26, 2008.
Yes! In 2022 a show named Dark Winds was released on AMC and AMC+, consisting of 6 episodes. It adapts the novels Listening Woman’ and ‘People of Darkness.’
It has recently been renewed for a second season, which will be appearing on TV in 2023. The show features Zahn McClarnon as Joe Leaphorn and Kiowa Gordon as Jim Chee.
It is estimated that his net worth was around 5 million US Dollars at the time of his death in 2008.