Who is Jim Chee? A cop. A Navajo. A scholar. A healer. Unlike Joe Leaphorn, the confident lieutenant who is rational, calculated, and skeptical of traditional Navajo beliefs and spiritual practices, Chee embraces the Navajo way of life and cherishes the sacred knowledge passed on to him by his ancestors. He is more intuitive than Leaphorn, and solves crimes not by relying solely on logical analysis, but on his senses and instincts.
By Stephanie Mack and Sophie Ell
In Hillerman’s 1980 novel PEOPLE OF DARKNESS, Jim Chee pursues a lead that takes him to Crownpoint Elementary School, the location of the Crownpoint Navajo Rug Auction. Leaving the parking area, which is full of older Plymouths and Fords, to enter the school’s auditorium, Chee is confronted by the familiar smells “of cooking fry bread, floor wax, blackboard chalk, stewing mutton and red chile, of raw wool, of horses, and of humans.”
“Hillerman Country” has long been a familiar term among the digital portal’s fellows, New Mexico residents, and fans all over the world. It evokes the canyons and mesas of the Navajo Reservation and the northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona high desert landscapes, but anyone who has read a Hillerman mystery knows that when the sun goes down on the enchanted terrain a different kind of scenery emerges, one that requires a raising of the gaze upwards.
As summer advances toward the solstice in late June, we on the Hillerman team are mentally projecting our bodies out into the terrain that our imaginations roam, thanks to Tony Hillerman. Although a significant portion of Hillerman’s Navajo detective series occurs in urban environments around the U.S., what the novels are best known for is their evocation of Southwest landscapes, landscapes into which he and his wife Marie would disappear whenever he encountered writer’s block.