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Skeleton Man (Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Series #17)

Skeleton Man (Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Series #17)

3.0 23
by Tony Hillerman

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In 1956, an airplane crash left the remains of 172 passengers scattered among the majestic cliffs of the Grand Canyon—including an arm attached to a briefcase containing a fortune in gems. Half a century later, one of the missing diamonds has reappeared . . . and the wolves are on the scent.

Former Navajo Tribal Police


In 1956, an airplane crash left the remains of 172 passengers scattered among the majestic cliffs of the Grand Canyon—including an arm attached to a briefcase containing a fortune in gems. Half a century later, one of the missing diamonds has reappeared . . . and the wolves are on the scent.

Former Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is coming out of retirement to help exonerate a slow, simple kid accused of robbing a trading post. Billy Tuve claims he received the diamond he tried to pawn from a mysterious old man in the canyon, and his story has attracted the dangerous attention of strangers to the Navajo lands—one more interested in a severed limb than in the fortune it was handcuffed to; another willing to murder to keep lost secrets hidden. But nature herself may prove the deadliest adversary, as Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee follow a puzzle—and a killer—down into the dark realm of Skeleton Man.

Editorial Reviews

Denver Post
“A grand mystery.”
Santa Fe New Mexican
“One of his strongest and most specific plots...amusingly wry dialogue...keenly observed detail.”
“A fascinating whodunit and a window into a rich culture....a gem.”
People Magazine
"A fascinating whodunit and a window into a rich culture....a gem."
Marilyn Stasio
In his masterly reworking of this powerful myth, Hillerman creates a kachina for contemporary times -- a hermit who lives in a cave at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and dispenses diamonds (''the symbol of greed,'' according to one wary recipient) that can corrupt anyone who mistakes their cold glitter for true light.
— The New York Times
Corrigan Corrigan
Leaphorn says at the outset of Skeleton Man that the story "illustrates his Navajo belief in universal connections. . . . The entire cosmos being an infinitely complicated machine all working together." With spare elegance, Hillerman makes good on Leaphorn's promise, even conjuring up a nuptial finale worthy of that non-Native-American master of happy coincidences, Charles Dickens.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In MWA Grandmaster Hillerman's sterling 17th Chee/Leaphorn novel, a 1956 collision between passenger planes high above the Grand Canyon leaves a courier's arm and attached diamond-filled security case unaccounted for after almost half a century. Enter retired Navajo Tribal Police Lt. Joe Leaphorn, who must try to connect the dots between an old robbery involving a valuable diamond and a more recent crime involving another diamond, both of which may somehow be related to the plane-crash jewels. The puzzle soon draws in fellow Navajo officer Sgt. Jim Chee and former cop Bernie Manuelito, Chee's soon-to-be bride. Billy Tuve, a cousin of Chee's lawman buddy Cowboy Dashee, is arrested after trying to pawn a gem believed to have come from the more recent robbery. Dashee enlists Chee's help to verify Tuve's story of a mysterious old man who gave him the jewel during a journey to a canyon-bottom shrine. But the good guys soon learn there are plenty more people in the hunt, and some will stop at nothing to get what they're after. The stakes are high and the danger escalates clear through to the final pages. Hillerman continues to shine as the best of the West. Agent, Maureen Walters at Curtis Brown. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-When two robberies involving magnificent diamonds appear related to a horrific airplane collision that occurred above the Grand Canyon back in 1956, series regular Lieutenant (ret.) Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police is brought in to ponder the connections. Though the aging Leaphorn's involvement in the puzzle is mainly cerebral, there is plenty of action for Sergeant Jim Chee and his fiancee, former police officer Bernie Manuelito. The two descend into the canyon's perilous depths in search of an elusive elder who may have found a cache of precious stones gone missing for half a century. Others are prowling the same territory in hopes of locating a gem-filled security case last seen fastened to the wrist of a courier aboard one of the doomed flights. The booty-and the courier's skeletal remains-will establish claims, rightful or otherwise, to an immense fortune, and the seekers are not inclined to cooperate with authorities. Suspense builds as all treasure hunters approach dangerous ground, where they meet for a thrilling climax. Drawing on a real-life airline disaster, Hopi legends, and current forensic science, this is a crackerjack addition to the Chee/Leaphorn mysteries. Fine leisure reading from a master of the form.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
CD 0-06-057907-2A brain-damaged Hopi holds the key to a fortune in diamonds, and even bigger stakes, in this treasure hunt. When he died nearly 50 years ago in a plane crash over the Grand Canyon, John Clarke had a case of diamonds chained to his left wrist and a pregnant fiancee waiting at the altar. Now, good-natured Billy Tuve has tried to pawn what looks like one of the Clarke diamonds for $20. Amid the usual jurisdictional scuffles among the Navajo Count Police, the Navajo Tribal Police, and the FBI, Billy's placed under arrest for robbing and killing the diamond's latest owner, Shorty McGinnis, who turns out to be very much alive. As retired Lt. Joe Leaphorn and active Sgt. Jim Chee of the NTP (The Sinister Pig, 2003, etc.) sort out Billy's and Shorty's wild tales of how they acquired the diamonds, it becomes clear that three separate parties will be converging on the floor of the Grand Canyon. Chee and his own fiancee, Bernadette Manuelito, want to confirm Billy's story; Joanna Craig wants to find her father's missing left arm, whose DNA can prove she's his rightful heir; and skip tracer Bradford Chandler, acting on behalf of John Clarke's crooked executor Dan Plymale, wants to make sure she doesn't. Adventures ensue. No mystery this time, but considerable suspense in the race to bottom of one of the most spectacular and treacherous landscapes Hillerman's ever explored. First printing of 400,000

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Series , #17
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Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Skeleton Man

Chapter One

Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, retired, had been explaining how the complicated happening below the Salt Woman Shrine illustrated his Navajo belief in universal connections. The cause leads to inevitable effect. The entire cosmos being an infinitely complicated machine all working together. His companions, taking their mid-morning coffee break at the Navajo Inn, didn't interrupt him. But they didn't seem impressed.

"I'll admit the half-century gap between the day all those people were killed here and Billy Tuve trying to pawn that diamond for twenty dollars is a problem," Leaphorn said. "But when you really think about it, trace it all back, you see how one thing kept leading to another. The chain's there."

Captain Pinto, who now occupied Joe Leaphorn's preretirement office in the Navajo Tribal Police Headquarters, put down his cup. He signaled a refill to the waitress who was listening to this conversation, and waited a polite moment for Leaphorn to explain this if he wished. Leaphorn had nothing to add. He just nodded, sort of agreeing with himself.

"Come on, Joe," Pinto said. "I know how that theory works and I buy it. Hard, hot wind blowing gets the birds tired of flying. One too many birds lands on a limb. Limb breaks off, falls into a stream, diverts water flow, undercuts the stream bank, causes a landslide, blocks the stream, floods the valley, changes the flora and that changes the fauna, and the folks who were living off of hunting the deer have to migrate. When you think back you could blame it all on that wind."

Pinto stopped, got polite, attentive silence from his fellow coffee drinkers, and decided to add a footnote.

"However, you have to do a lot of complicated thinking to work in that Joanna Craig woman. Coming all the way out from New York just because a brain-damaged Hopi tries to pawn a valuable diamond for twenty bucks."

Captain Largo, who had driven down from his Shiprock office to attend a conference on the drunk-driving problem, entered the discussion. "Trouble is, Joe, the time gap is just too big to make you a good case. You say it started when the young man with the camera on the United Airlines plane was sort of like the last bird on Pinto's fictional tree limb, so to speak. He mentioned to the stewardess he'd like to get some shots down into the Grand Canyon when they were flying over it. Isn't that the theory? The stewardess mentions that to the pilot, and so he does a little turn out of the cloud they're flying through, and cuts right through the TWA airplane. That was June 30, 1956. All right. I'll buy that much of it. Passenger asks a favor, pilot grants it. Boom. Everybody dead. End of incident. Then this spring, about five decades later, this Hopi fella, Billy Tuve, shows up in a Gallup pawnshop and tries to pawn a twenty-thousand-dollar diamond for twenty bucks. That touches off another series of events, sort of a whole different business. I say it's not just another chapter, it's like a whole new book. Hell, Tuve hadn't even been born yet when that collision happened. Right? And neither had the Craig woman."

"Right," said Pinto. "You have a huge gap in that cause-and-effect chain, Joe. And we're just guessing the kid with the camera asked the pilot to turn. Nobody knows why the pilot did that."

Leaphorn sighed. "You're thinking about the gap you see in one single connecting chain. I'm thinking of a bunch of different chains which all seem to get drawn together."

Largo looked skeptical, shook his head, grinned at Leaphorn. "If you had one of your famous maps here, could you chart that out for us?"

"It would look like a spiderweb," Pinto said.

Leaphorn ignored that. "Take Joanna Craig's role in this. The fact she wasn't born yet is part of the connection. The crash killed her daddy. From what Craig said, that caused her mama to become a bitter woman and that caused Craig to be bitter, too. Jim Chee told me she wasn't really after those damned diamonds when she came to the canyon. She just wanted to find them so she could get revenge."

That produced no comment.

"You see how that works," Leaphorn said. "And that's what drew that Bradford Chandler fellow into the case. The skip tracer. He may have been purely after money, but his job was blocking Craig from getting what she was after. That's what sent him down into the canyon. And Cowboy Dashee was down there doing family duty. For Chee, the pull was friendship. And -- " Leaphorn stopped, sentence unfinished.

Pinto chuckled. "Go on, Joe," he said. "How about Bernie Manuelito? What pulled little Bernie into it?"

"It was fun for Bernie," Leaphorn said. "Or love."

"You know," said Largo. "I can't get over our little Bernie. I mean, how she managed to get herself out of that mess without getting killed. And another thing that's hard to figure is how you managed to butt in. You're supposed to be retired."

"Pinto gets the blame for that," Leaphorn said. "Telling me old Shorty McGinnis had died. See? That's another of the chain I was talking about."

"I was just doing you a favor, Joe," Pinto said. "I knew you were getting bored with retirement. Just wanted to give you an excuse to try your hand at detecting again."

"Saved your budget some travel money, too," Leaphorn said, grinning. He was remembering that day, remembering how totally out-it-all he'd felt, how happy he'd been driving north in search of the McGinnis diamond -- which he'd never thought had actually existed. Now he was thinking about how a disaster buried under a lifetime of dust had risen again and the divergent emotions it had stirred. Greed, obviously, and hatred, plus family duty, a debt owed to a friend. And perhaps, in Bernie Manuelito's case, even love.

Skeleton Man. Copyright © by Tony Hillerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Tony Hillerman (1925–2008), an Albuquerque, New Mexico, resident since 1963, was the author of 29 books, including the popular 18-book mystery series featuring Navajo police officers Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, two non-series novels, two children’s books, and nonfiction works. He had received every major honor for mystery fiction; awards ranging from the Navajo Tribal Council's commendation to France 's esteemed Grand prix de litterature policiere. Western Writers of America honored him with the Wister Award for Lifetime achievement in 2008. He served as president of the prestigious Mystery Writers of America, and was honored with that group’s Edgar Award and as one of mystery fiction’s Grand Masters. In 2001, his memoir, Seldom Disappointed, won both the Anthony and Agatha Awards for best nonfiction.

Brief Biography

Albuquerque, New Mexico
Date of Birth:
May 27, 1925
Date of Death:
October 26, 2008
Place of Birth:
Sacred Heart, Oklahoma
Place of Death:
Albuquerque, New Mexico
B.A., University of Oklahoma, 1946; M.A., University of New Mexico, 1966

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Skeleton Man (Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Series #17) 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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bravewarrior More than 1 year ago
CD/unabridged: Book 17 of the Joe Leaphorn & Jimmy Chee series. I've listened to two other books by Hillerman and he is a very good story teller. This one was written about four years before Hillerman's passing and is short. I was surprised to see that it was unabridged and only six discs. In this one Leaphorn, retired, recounts the story of an airplane that crashed in to another and fell to the Grand Canyon while trying to prove the innocence of a simple man. I like it because I learned something; most of it doing with Indian culture. In a flashback, you learn the story of how Chee and Bernie went into the GC to find the diamonds and the wrist. The ending was a little fulfilling. I've read several novels that have a "male rain" that wipes out everything. (Another one, just this year.) It was an easy out and shortened the storytelling. George Guidall does a great reading with a lot of flavor of the west.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Not a long story, but a light visit to the southwest and mystery. Our friends are still working hard to solve another crime. Not a lot of Joe, but I still love the trips with hillerman
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so boring I ended up skimming just to see if Bernie and Chee finally tie the knot...slim motivation to keep reading! The plot is thin, introduced in the first chapter by a flashback, and then endlessly repeated as it is revealed separately to each character. The Native American lore feels tacked on. It seems to be a book written by committee, lacking an editor. Glitches abound. This is at best a short story, and not worthy of bearing Hillerman's name.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I felt this was written in a hurry to meet some kind of deadline. The story was very flat and the plot implausible. There is, however, some redemption in the telling of lores and legends. At least that saved the book somewhat.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't agree with the 'star guide' which indicates three stars with OK but four stars as Recommended. I would recommend the book, but call it OK and not as great as most of Hillerman's earlier novels. Hillerman gives us a good story, but seems to be a bit too tight with his prose here. Were I his publisher, I'd advise him to 'flesh it out' a bit in some key areas. But even Hillerman's 'OK' novels are superior to most other mystery writers today. Still a good read, even if you might be able to put it down between chapters before completing it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love Mr. Hillerman, but 'Skeleton Man' is not Mr. Hillerman at his best, at least at least in opinion. But, we admire you Mr. Hillerman.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story is satisfying, but not Hillerman's best work. His talent for developing interesting characters does shine through, and his illumination of the arcane aspects of Native American culture and customs is full of great detail.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I eagerly awaited this book after my disappointment with Hillerman's last offering. Sadly, this thin tome contains only pale shadows of his past craft. The story he presents us is a skeleton. The flesh of his earlier writing is not evident.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yes there could be more of the Indian culture, more of the sights and sounds and smells and feel of the great American Southwest, more veneration for the world in which we are placed but there is enough that is good that this book is an improvement over the previous and at least I can hope that the great Tony Hillerman is on the way back. Many thanks Mr. Tony Hillerman.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an improvement on Hillerman's last novel, The Sinister Pig. I would agree that there is too much filler. The white characters in the novel are uninteresting. The book would have been better if Hillerman had told the story completely from the point of view of the Navajo police as he used to do. The ending was very flat and unsuprising.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ever since I was given Talking God as a present, I have eagerly awaited each new Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn story. In the past, I could go back and read all of those Hillerman novels that came before Talking God, but now, I have to wait the two years. When I began reading Skeleton Man, I was a little confused at first--but then I realized that Hillerman, the masterful story teller, was playing with our sense of time. Usually, especially in mystery novels, the progression is linear--but in this case, it is not. The way Hillerman weaves the stories and the simultaneity of events really makes this fascinating. I don't want to say more because I don't want to ruin it for other readers--but suffice it to say, it is like being a 'fly simultaneously on several walls' (to paraphrase one of Hillerman's titles). I liked this book so much that I gave it as Christmas presents to several friends and family members so I could have an informal book club to see what they think of this 'novel' approach.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hillerman's own battle with illness has shown up in his recent books -- and this one is no exception. Unfortunately it reads as if some out of work romance writer was asked to fill in the blanks. There is way too much anguished rehashing of the plot points. That is a technique especially prevalent in romance novels and seems to assume that the reader has forgotten the story from one chapter to the next. What I don't understand is the way our high profile industry reviewers write their reviews. Kirkus and Publishers Weekly probably didn't even have reviewers actually read the book. Oh well, to give Hillerman his due, he has been a terrific story teller who has been ill and is still trying to meet the reader's expectations. But, maybe its time to rest on his laurals and let us go back and reread the gems.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tony Hillerman's tales are tops - no doubt about that. Very much like fine wine, he just keeps getting better and better. His latest, which takes readers/listeners on a stunning investigation down the slopes of the Grand Canyon evokes captivating pictures of this natural phenomenon. Of course, we also have an opportunity to renew acquaintances with some of our favorite characters among the Navajo Tribal Police, their friends, and loved ones. Film and Broadway actor George Guidall is in the spotlight for this reading, and his performance is on target. With resonant, measured voice he relates an old tragedy and a more recent crime. Can the two be connected? Lt. Joe Leaphorn thinks so. Some half a century ago a plane collision over the Grand Canyon took the lives of 172 people. Among them: a courier with a satchel containing mega bucks in diamonds attached to his wrist. Now, it seems that there's been an attempt to pawn a diamond that the accused says was given to him. Proving his innocence involves finding the body of the courier and the satchel of diamonds. Sgt. Jim Chee is on hand to help his pal Joe Leaphorn, but they aren't the only ones looking for the satchel. The daughter of the diamond dealer claims the diamonds are rightfully hers, while a mysterious intruder is willing to kill to get them. Hillerman's in fine fettle, and listeners will be, too. - Gail Cooke
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Hillerman has completely missed the mark again. His last two books have been disjointed. We are not interested in a romance novel or interpersonal relationships, other than how they relate to the indian cultures of the area. In his latest, the book appears to be ghost written. Several parts are well researched while other are just filler. Did author have a deadline and needed to use space? There is no cultural depth. Further, the reseachers or proofreaders should know the Colorado River does not flow into the Pacific Ocean. It flows into the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). Also, references to the depth of the canyon go from 3000 ft. to over 5000 ft. May have lost me as a reader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like Arthur Upfield and Robert Van Gulik before him, Tony Hillerman set his mysteries in a strange and exotic culture, capturing his readers by combining great story-telling with trips into a foreign but fascinating world. Just as Upfield's Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte opened up the Aboriginal Australian bush to readers, and Van Gulik captivated us with Judge Dee's seventh-century Tang Dynasty, Hillerman hooked us with his insights into the Native American culture of our Southwest. Good mysteries set in these fascinating settings are irresistible. Alas, Mr. Hillerman has strayed in his recent works, and 'Skeleton Man' is no exception. It misses the mark in two ways: First, where in earlier Hillerman works Native American culture--chiefly Navajo--was central to the story, in 'Skeleton Man' it's simply color commentary to a routine story about the White Man's greed. Second, it's not a mystery, but an adventure, and a rather bland one at that. 'The First Eagle' was Hillerman's last true Navajo mystery; the four novels published since then have been essentially White-Man adventures, with no real mystery and not much Native American culture. The fact that they're set in the Southwest doesn't in itself save them. I hope Hillerman hasn't opted for the same path taken by Robert B. Parker, going from terrific mystery writer to commercial hack in a few short years...