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

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

by Tony Hillerman

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Hailed as "a wonderful storyteller" by the New York Times, and a "national and literary cultural sensation" by the Los Angeles Times, bestselling author Tony Hillerman is back with another blockbuster novel featuring the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee.

Former Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn comes out of retirement to help investigate what seems to be a trading post robbery. A simple-minded kid nailed for the crime is the cousin of an old colleague of Sergeant Jim Chee. He needs help and Chee, and his fiancée Bernie Manuelito, decide to provide it.

Proving the kid's innocence requires finding the remains of one of 172 people whose bodies were scattered among the cliffs of the Grand Canyon in an epic airline disaster 50 years in the past. That passenger had handcuffed to his wrist an attaché case filled with a fortune in—one of which seems to have turned up in the robbery.

But with Hillerman, it can't be that simple. The daughter of the long-dead diamond dealer is also seeking his body. So is a most unpleasant fellow willing to kill to make sure she doesn't succeed. These two tense tales collide deep in the canyon at the place where an old man died trying to build a cult reviving reverence for the Hopi guardian of the Underworld. It's a race to the finish in a thunderous monsoon storm to see who will survive, who will be brought to justice, and who will finally unearth the Skeleton Man.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061801877
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/17/2009
Series: Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Series , #17
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 3,786
File size: 560 KB

About 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.


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

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.

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Skeleton Man (Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Series #17) 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok Ok
JoAnnSmithAinsworth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Slumped in the middle via repetition, but always interesting characters solving am interesting mystery.
EssFair on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Outsiders are a big part of this mystery. Their actions result in problems that Leaphorn and Chee must deal with. When a friend of cowboy Dashee gets arrested for stealing a diamond that he claims was given to him by an old Indian, Dashee asks Jim to help him prove his friend is innocent. This chain of events gets Leaphorn remembering a diamond an old trader claimed to own. Are they real diamonds? Where did they really come from? Were they lost during a major disaster involving two passenger planes? And why are so many Easterners suddenly interested in the diamonds? Leaphorn does most of the thinking while Jim, Dashee and Bernie are involved in most of the action.
clark.hallman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Navajo County Deputy Sheriff Cowboy Dashee¿s cousin is accused of stealing and pawning a large diamond. Sargent Jim Chee, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn (ret.) and Chee¿s fiancée Bernie Manuelito work together on this case, and prove that the diamond is connected to a plane crash that took place in the Grand Canyon area fifty years ago. A diamond dealer was among the 172 passengers who died in that plane crash, and he had a case of diamonds handcuffed to his wrist at the time. His body was never found but someone had seen a severed arm with the case attached to it, which had been washed away by the canyon water before it could be obtained. The diamond dealer was planning to marry a woman who was carrying his child and their engagement ring was among the missing diamonds. Unfortunately his father did not approve of the fiancé and refused to give her, or the child, any of the estate. After the man¿s father died the woman kept trying to obtain a fair share of the estate for her daughter, but the family¿s attorneys prevented it and controlled the large estate. Now the daughter is grown and when she heard of the severed arm being spotted she realized that DNA from it could prove that she was the diamond dealer¿s daughter and she could receive a portion of the estate of her father. However, the unscrupulous attorneys who controlled the estate, where willing to do whatever was necessary to prevent her from finding that arm. Leaphorn was the narrator of this story and he did not play a large role in it. However, he visited his old friend, McGinnis, at the trading post which had been a hub of activity for many years, but now was abandoned, except for its owner, McGinnis. Leaphorn lamented about the loss of old friends and how things had changed. This novel seems be bringing the Leaphorn and Chee adventures to an end. Pat and I wonder whether it may be the last in the series.
-Eva- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Decent enough story, but the true appeal of the Chee/Leaphorn mysteries are their details about Navajo and Hopi life, culture, and myths, and this one has very little of any of that. I'd recommend any of the other books in this series, but you can stay away from this one. I have a feeling this (17th) is the last of Hillerman's Chee/Leaphorn stories, and even if it isn't, it's probably the last one I read. The story is a little too convoluted, and its solution pretty predicable. Too bad, I've always enjoyed these characters.
mmtz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tony Hillerman returns to the bookshelf with this tale based on a 1956 plane crash in the Grand Canyon. While Jim Chee is suffering a little anxiety over his forthcoming marriage to Bernie Manuelito, Joe Leaphorn is called in for a consultation. Leaphorn digs up old memories and, with Chee, an old case. As always, Hillerman¿s characters are as welcome as old friends.Published in hardcover by Harper Collins.
alibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An okay way to pass some time, but nothing to highly recommend. A little tighter than some other of his recent mysteries, but nothing like the first Leaphorn/Chee mysteries. As others have said, the native American culture is no longer central to his plots, only background color. I wish he had stayed more with Leaphorn's handling of his retirement which seemed central at the beginning, but simply disappeared as the book wore on.
lcrouch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although not great literature, Tony Hillerman delivers a tight story around characters one has come to consider family over the course of his writing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book, well worth the read. Suspenseful and thrilling.
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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.