The Shape Shifter

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The Shape Shifter
First edition
Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn Navajo Tribal Police Series
Author Tony Hillerman
Country United States
Language English
Genre Crime fiction
Publisher HarperCollins
Published 2006
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Preceded by Skeleton Man, 2004
Followed by Spider Woman's Daughter, written by Anne Hillerman, 2013

The Shape Shifter is the eighteenth crime fiction novel in the Jim Chee / Joe Leaphorn Navajo Tribal Police series by Tony Hillerman, first published in 2006. It was a New York Times best-seller[1] and the last Chee/Leaphorn novel by Hillerman published before Hillerman's death on October 26, 2008.[2]


  • Joe Leaphorn, widowed, retired from the Navaho Tribal Police.
  • Jim Chee, sergeant in the Navajo Tribal Police and recently married.
  • Bernadette Manuelito, former Navajo Tribal Police officer and now wife of Jim Chee.
  • Albert "Cowboy" Dashee, Bureau of Land Management security officer and long time friend to Jim Chee.
  • Captain Largo, Chee's superior officer.
  • Professor Louisa Bourbonette, Leaphorn's friend, a professor researching the origin stories of the tribes of the area who uses Leaphorn's spare room as her base when conducting interviews
  • Jason Delos, Antagonist of the story
  • Sansei Rob, Antagonist of the story


Kirkus Reviews says there is not much mystery in this novel but Hillerman's warmth is undiminished:

Lt. Joe Leaphorn, who can’t seem to stay retired, investigates a case that takes him back to his earliest days with the Navajo Tribal Police.

When Erwin Totter’s trading post burned to the ground back in 1965, the news that Ray Shewnack, a fugitive on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, had perished in the blaze drew all available officers to the scene. Joe Leaphorn (Skeleton Man, 2004, etc.) was pulled away from Grandma Peshlakai’s, where he’d gone in hopes of recovering the ten gallons of pinyon sap stolen from her. It was a waste of time, Grandma Peshlakai insisted, since the man was certainly dead. Now Leaphorn’s old friend Mel Bork, a private eye in Flagstaff, has disappeared after sending Leaphorn a photograph of a tribal rug that’s supposed to have been destroyed in the Totter fire. If the rug survived—and when Leaphorn treks out to Flagstaff to examine it as it hangs on the wall of big-game hunter Jason Delos’s lodge—maybe Shewnack, a holdup artist who managed to kill two victims and finger his three accomplices to the police, isn’t dead after all.

Not much mystery this time, and Sgt. Jim Chee and his bride Bernadette Manuelito (“now it’s Chee”) are mostly kept offstage. But Hillerman’s warmth is undiminished as he follows a dogged old cop who burns up gasoline by driving all over Arizona because he can’t bear to sit at home.[3]

Marilyn Stasio finds that Like all the great storytellers, from Homer on down, Tony Hillerman knows that every dark and twisted tale of murder can be traced back to its mythic origins. ... Hillerman’s lyrical novel is as much about recovering these lost legends — and the existential purpose they offer an aging hero in recoil from “the retirement world” — as it is about bringing a criminal to justice. So there’s real poignancy in Leaphorn’s efforts to track down an antique rug woven to commemorate “all the dying, humiliation and misery” on the Navajo nation’s “Long Walk” home from an Army concentration camp in the 1860s.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ New York Times best-seller list for December 19, 2004
  2. ^ New York Times Tony Hillerman, Novelist, Dies at 83
  3. ^ "The Shape Shifter" (March 1, 2006 ed.). Kirkus Reviews. May 20, 2010. Retrieved October 4, 2014. 
  4. ^ Marilyn Stasio (November 26, 2006). "Crime: Death Threads". New York Times. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 

External links[edit]