Hunting Badger

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Hunting Badger
First edition
Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn Navajo Tribal Police Series
Author Tony Hillerman
Cover artist Ernest Franklin[1]
Country United States
Language English
Genre Crime fiction
Publisher HarperCollins
Published 1999 - present
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Preceded by The First Eagle, 1998
Followed by The Wailing Wind, 2002

Hunting Badger is the fourteenth crime fiction novel in the Jim Chee / Joe Leaphorn Navajo Tribal Police series by Tony Hillerman, first published in 1999.

The story involves the armed robbery of a Ute Indian gambling casino by three men in which two security guards are shot. The plot also involves a stolen pick-up truck, a missing airplane, and anti-government militias.


  • Joe Leaphorn: Retired lieutenant of the Navajo Tribal Police.
  • Jim Chee: Officer in the Navajo Tribal Police, recently returned from a trip to Alaska.

Structure of plot[edit]

The book has a strong linear plot line in which the Chee and Leaphorn must look to the crimes of the past to discover what has happened and where the casino thieves are hiding before anyone is falsely accused.


Kirkus Reviews finds this a lesser work from Hillerman, but pleasing, and with the best tricks at the end:

On May 4, 1998, a Colorado police officer was shot and killed when he pulled over a stolen water truck. One of the three thieves killed himself soon thereafter; the other two remain at large despite the FBI’s scorched-earth (and, Hillerman hints in a brief introduction, insensitive) search tactics. But what if Sgt. Jim Chee and retired Lt. Joe Leaphorn, of the Navajo Tribal Police, had been on the job? Hillerman (The First Eagle, 1998, etc.) here reimagines the crime as a Ute Casino holdup that leaves the security chief dead and one of his rent-a-cops, whom the police wrongheadedly assume to have been the inside man, wounded. Chee, back in Shiprock to investigate the theft of an ancient Cessna presumably used in the robbers’ high-country getaway, soon finds his path crisscrossing that of Leaphorn, called back into action still again by old rancher Roy Gershwin’s insistence that he can name the perps. Nosing around among his friends, acquaintances, former colleagues, and former adversaries, Leaphorn soon walks in on a suicide scene that confirms Gershwin’s confidence. But how can even a wily old veteran like Leaphorn track down the surviving thieves, especially the one dubbed —Badger— who’s reputed to be a witch? Pleasing lesser work from the doyen of the regional mystery—a master who, like his hero, keeps his best tricks till last.[2]

Publishers Weekly says there are new insights into Navajo culture and many twists and turns in first class writing:

Picking up a new Hillerman book has the high comfort level of revisiting a favorite old Western hotel like the Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe or the Ahwani at Yosemite--the accommodations will always be first class and the scenery spectacular. Not that Hillerman ignores the passage of time: his two Navajo cops, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, age and change as we all do. There's a moment in the novel when Chee meets with his retired former boss at the Anasazi Inn dining room in Farmington, N. Mex. "He had looked right past the corner table and the stocky old duffer sitting there with a plump middle-aged woman without recognizing Joe Leaphorn.... He had seen the Legendary Lieutenant in civilian attire before, but the image he carried in his mind was of Leaphorn in uniform." As for the prickly Sergeant Chee, he has to contend with physical problems as well as with the end of one romance and the beginning of another--not to mention the very real possibility of being picked off by a sniper during the search for the men who robbed a casino owned by the Ute tribe. In a rare author's note, Hillerman talks about an actual 1998 case in which the FBI turned the killing of a Colorado police officer into a gigantic fiasco. The shadow of that failed investigation hangs over the search in this book, leading to many anti-FBI jibes (If the Federal Bureau of Ineptitude says it, it must be true, another retired cop tells Leaphorn). As usual in recent Hillerman books, the action goes on mostly inside the minds of his two lead characters. But there is one splendid helicopter ride into Gothic Creek Canyon that should speed up the calmest heart, several new insights into the mysteries of Navajo culture and a story with enough twists and surprises to make readers glad they checked in.[3]

Nicholas Allison remarks that all the cardinal virtues of Hillermn's writing are evident, including pellucid prose and characters who seem to rise off the page:

The marvellous Hunting Badger is Tony Hillerman's 13th novel featuring Navajo Tribal Police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Here the two cops (who appeared in separate books early on but whose paths now routinely cross) are working two angles of the same case: Catching the right-wing militiamen who pulled off a violent heist at an Indian casino. Hillerman serves up plenty of action and enough plot twists to keep readers off balance, leading up to a satisfyingly tense climax in which Leaphorn and Chee stalk a killer in his hideout. But through it all, the cardinal Hillerman virtues are in evidence: Economical, pellucid prose; a panoply of Indian-country characters who seem to rise right up off the page; vivid evocations of the Southwest's bleak beauty and rich insights into Navajo life and culture. (Hillerman once told an interviewer that the highest compliment he'd ever received was hearing that many Navajo readers assumed that he himself was Navajo--he's not.)

While first-time readers will find plenty to enjoy in Hunting Badger, it holds special pleasures for long-time fans. There's more and deeper contact between Leaphorn and Chee and we continued to see deeper into the prickly Leaphorn's human side (though presented without fuss or sentimentality). Chee finally begins to get over Janet Pete (it took about six books) and inch toward a new love interest. And in a moving section involving Chee's spiritual teacher Frank Sam Nakai, the shaman provides a key insight into the case.

In a world teeming with "sense of place" mysteries--set in Seattle, Alaska, the Arizona desert or Chicago--it can be a shock to return to Hillerman, who started it all, and realise just how superior he is to the rest of the pack.[4]

Library Journal recommends this mystery, weaving Navajo and Ute myths into the fabric of an action-packed story:

Navajo tribal police officers Joe Leaphorn (ret.) and Jim Chee are united again, this time in an effort to catch heavily armed right-wing militiamen who robbed an Indian casino and who may or may not be involved in a previous mishandled manhunt. Navajo and Ute myths and history are successfully woven into a modern mystery. Insights into Leaphorn's and Chee's personalities are unveiled against the backdrop of the scenic Southwest's beauty, other interesting characters, and peeks into Navajo life. The tale, which is well-read by George Guidall, also contains plenty of action and surprises, along with dynamic central characters struggling to live in the modern world without sacrificing their culture. Recommended.[5]


  1. ^ Tony Hillerman Books Illustrated by Ernest Franklin
  2. ^ "Hunting Badger" (November 15, 1999 ed.). Kirkus Reviews. May 20, 2010. Retrieved November 26, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Hunting Badger". Publishers Weekly. November 1999. Retrieved November 26, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Hunting Badger". Review. Retrieved November 26, 2014. 
  5. ^ Denise A. Garofalo (2000). "Hunting Badger" (audiobook ed.). Poughkeepsie, NY: Library Journal Reed Business Information. Retrieved November 26, 2014.