Jim Chee is one of two Navajo Tribal Police detectives in a series of mystery novels by Tony Hillerman. Unlike his superior Joe Leaphorn, the "Legendary Lieutenant", Chee wants to be a staunch believer in traditional Navajo culture; indeed, he is studying to be a traditional healer at the same time that he is a police officer.
Chee has many personal troubles over the course of the series. He first falls in love with Mary Landon, a white schoolteacher teaching primary school on the reservation, but finds that they will never be compatible. She wants him to give up many of his Navajo ways and become, essentially, white, which he cannot do. Chee next falls in love with Janet Pete, a half-Navajo, half-white lawyer attached to the local prosecutor's office. Though this romance starts out strong, it, too, disintegrates. Janet cannot give up many of her ways, yet wants Chee to leave the reservation. Eventually she betrays him, and they part ways. Chee's third, and, to date, final romance is with Bernadette Manuelito, a full-blooded Navajo and member of the Tribal Police. They marry at the conclusion of Skeleton Man. At the same time, Chee's uncle Frank Sam Nakai tells him that to be a good shaman he must 'believe and not believe.' Chee interprets this to mean he cannot be a good shaman, and is devastated.
Chee and Leaphorn do not get along terribly well at first. Leaphorn views Chee (justifiably) as too hot-headed and impatient, while Chee in turn respects Leaphorn but sees him as too stodgy. Chee is willing, however, to call on Leaphorn whenever he is stuck with a particular problem in a case. Eventually the two men develop a healthy respect for each other, if not a deep friendship.
Hillerman writes in his autobiography, Seldom Disappointed (2001), that he created Jim Chee as an alternative to Leaphorn for the novel People of Darkness (1980) because the novel is set on the Checkerboard Reservation, and Hillerman felt that Leaphorn was too hardened to fit into the plot. He needed someone more naive, and Chee fit the bill.
Appearances in other media
Three of the Hillerman novels (Skinwalkers, Coyote Waits, and A Thief of Time) were adapted for television as part of the PBS series Mystery!, as part of its American Mystery! specials. In these adaptations, Chee was played by actor Adam Beach. Robert Redford also serving as the executive producer in all four film adaptations.
Jim Chee appears in the following novels:
- People of Darkness (1980)
- The Dark Wind (1982) made into a movie in 1991
- The Ghostway (1984)
- Skinwalkers (1986) made into a Mystery movie by PBS
- A Thief of Time (1988) made into a Mystery movie by PBS
- Talking God (1989)
- Coyote Waits (1990) made into a Mystery movie by PBS
- Sacred Clowns (1993)
- The Fallen Man (1996)
- The First Eagle (1998)
- Hunting Badger (1999)
- The Wailing Wind (2002)
- The Sinister Pig (2003)
- Skeleton Man (2004) ISBN 0-06-056344-3
- The Shape Shifter (2006)
- Spider Woman's Daughter (2013) (written by Anne Hillerman)
In every novel from Skinwalkers on, he is joined by Joe Leaphorn.