Skinwalkers (novel)

Skinwalkers (novel)

"Skinwalkers" a mystery novel, is the seventh book by author Tony Hillerman.

Plot summary

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 the University of Arizona, 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 policeman who is rooted in Navajo mythology, 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 isn't working out: he doesn't want to leave the reservation, and she can't 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.

Film, TV, or theatrical adaptations

It was adapted for television (see Skinwalkers (2002 film)), airing on PBS's series "Mystery!" in 2002. This was the start of "Mystery!"'s American based stories.

ee also

*Coyote Waits

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