Skinwalkers (novel)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the novel. For other uses, see Skin-walker.
Skinwalkers (novel)
First edition
Author Tony Hillerman
Cover artist Ernest Franklin[1]
Country United States
Language English
Series Jim Chee / Joe Leaphorn Navajo Tribal Police Series
Genre Mystery
Publisher Harper & Row
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Preceded by The Ghostway
Followed by A Thief of Time

Skinwalkers is a mystery novel, is the seventh in the Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Navajo Tribal Police series by author Tony Hillerman published in 1986.

Plot summary[edit]

When an unknown assailant tries to kill Officer Jim Chee by firing a shotgun into his trailer, and three other people are found murdered in different locations around the Navajo reservation, Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police find few motives or clues except for small pieces of bone found in the bodies and in the shotgun shells used in the attempt on Chee. This leads them to conclude that the assailants and victims were involved with Navajo witchcraft, whose practitioners are called Skin-walkers. Leaphorn, a secular Navajo, rejects witchcraft as hateful superstition that has no place in Navajo mythology, but Chee, a practicing yataalii or medicine man, does not dismiss it so easily. Solving the cases requires them to find a balance between Navajo folklore and Western inductive reasoning, and to risk their lives to track down a killer before he gets to them first.


Hillerman created a range of characters who represent a variety of contemporary Navajos, from the modern ones educated in the white world and adapting to its ways, to the deeply traditional, non-English speaking ones. The book's primary characters, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee, are members of the Navajo Tribal Police.

Leaphorn is a revered senior officer with exceptional analytical intelligence and little tolerance for superstition, which he attempts to balance with the Navajo traditions that are intertwined with his work and personal life. A secular-minded graduate of Arizona State University, he stayed on the reservation to please his wife, Emma, a college-educated, though deeply traditional Navajo woman. As Leaphorn struggles to unravel the central mystery of the story, he must also cope with Emma's apparent development of Alzheimer's disease, and her resistance to treatment by Western doctors.

Chee is a young, idealistic, recently graduated (University of New Mexico) policeman who is rooted in Navajo religion, lives in a shabby trailer, and practices as a yataalii, or medicine man. He is in love with Mary Landon, a white woman from Wisconsin who used to teach on the reservation, but the long-distance relationship is not working out: he does not want to leave the reservation, and she cannot adapt to Chee's poverty and tribal identity.

Among the other characters are Dr. Yellowhorse, a doctor who opened a clinic that practices both traditional and Western medicine; Janet Pete, an elegant and sharp-minded attorney who is half Navajo, half white; and FBI agents Kennedy and Streib, who juggle responsibilities with Leaphorn and Chee.


The novel was well received. Greg Herren, for Reviewing the Evidence, found that the "suspense gradually builds until the reader cannot help but turn the page, regardless of the time" stating that Hillerman is "a master of character, scene, and plot", concluding that "what makes Skinwalkers so outstanding, for me, is that it takes the reader inside the world of the Navajo reservation".[2] Alicia Karen Elkins, for Rambles magazine, stated that she "could not put this book down and read it completely in one sitting", finding that it "will keep you edge of your seat and amaze you with unexpected twists" and that "the writing is lively and extremely descriptive"; concluding "I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in Native American folklore or culture".[3]

The novel won the 1988 Anthony Award for "Best Novel".[4]


The novel was adapted for television in the 2002 film Skinwalkers, airing on PBS's series Mystery!.[5][6] The film starred Adam Beach as Jim Chee and Wes Studi as Joe Leaphorn. It was the first of Mystery!'s American based stories.[7][8]


  1. ^ Tony Hillerman Books Illustrated by Ernest Franklin
  2. ^ "Skinwalkers". February 2003. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Tony Hillerman, Skinwalkers". August 2, 2003. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Bouchercon World Mystery Convention : Anthony Awards Nominees". October 2, 2003. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  5. ^ "American Mystery! Specials". WGBH. 2003. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  6. ^ "Television Review: Old Navajo Ways and New Meet in a Mystery". New York Times. November 22, 2002. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  7. ^ Huff, Richard (February 22, 2002). "Navajo police join 'Mystery' - New York Daily News". Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  8. ^ Skinwalkers (2002) at the Internet Movie Database