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Spider Woman's DaughterBy Azam Gill

Leaphorn and Chee of the Navajo Nation Police are back in their business of investigation! Their latest mystery, SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER was written by Anne Hillerman, accomplished daughter of iconic mystery author Tony Hillerman, the creator of Leaphorn and Chee. The story begins with an unthinkable, heart-stopping moment.

Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito has just finished having breakfast with her colleagues when an unidentified shooter in a blue sedan guns one of them down in the parking lot. As the critically wounded man fights for his life in the hospital, the Navajo Nation Police and the FBI join forces to find the person who shot him. Clues point to a cold case from Joe Leaphorn’s past—but not so cold that Bernie and Chee’s own lives are not at risk.

SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER has inspired exciting peer reviews.

David Morrell, #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of MURDER AS A FINE ART, says: “A worthy continuation of Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn & Chee series. His daughter Anne ably returns to Navajo Country in a colorful mystery that is both fascinating and vividly compelling. From its startling first scene to its gripping climax, SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER engages the reader in a complex web of intrigue and deception.”

Douglas Preston, #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of BLASPHEMY and co-creator, with Lincoln Child, of the celebrated Pendergast novels, says: “From the utterly shocking opening scene to the final twist, Anne Hillerman offers a thrilling Southwestern tale featuring the unforgettable characters of Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, set in the vivid landscapes of Navajo country. SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER is a must read for anyone who loved the great Tony Hillerman novels, now carried on by his amazingly talented daughter, a superb writer herself. I dearly hope this is the first of many.”

To continue the work of a writer who reached the summit of his genre is an overwhelming task, but Anne Hillerman’sown writing credits make her a star in her own right. She is also eminently qualified in the Leaphorn and Chee culture.

Her seven non-fiction books include the critically acclaimed TONY HILLERMAN’S LANDSCAPE: IN THE ROAD WITH CHEE AND LEAPHORN (HarperCollins). She has been honoured by The Independent Booksellers’ Mountains and Plains Book Award, two New Mexico Book Awards and two Best of Santa Fe Awards. A finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award, she is also the founding director of the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference.

In perpetuating Leepham and Chee of the Navajo Nation Police, Anne Hillerman is not only in illustrious company, but distinguished within it.

While Martin Amis and Kiran Desai practise their parental craft, they do not maintain their parents’ writing itself. Jill Faulkner Summers honoured her father by posthumously publishing FLAGS IN THE DUST, William Faulkner’s third novel that is now considered to supersede SARTORIS, the abridged version:  but she is not a writer herself.  John Gardner and Raymond Benson carried Ian Fleming’s torch, Mark Winegardner stepped into Mario Puzo’s shoes and T. N. Murari’s THE IMPERIAL AGENT offers the brilliant sequel to Rudyard Kipling’s KIM, but they are not kin to the original authors.

Anne Hillerman, on the other hand, synthesizes the endeavors of these authors as she continues her father’s writing, with a unique blend of courage, competence and literary self-confidence. She has taken the fifth (Protestant) and fourth (Catholic) Commandment beyond the call of duty. For this alone, SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER and its author will eventually occupy their own iconic place. And on top of it, from the celebrity gourmet critic that she is, expect a regular supply of exciting dishes.

Anne Hillerman kindly granted THE BIG THRILL an exclusive interview.

Shall we start with an introduction?

I’m Anne Hillerman, the eldest of author Tony Hillerman’s six children. I am honored to be interviewed. Like my Dad, I started my professional writing career as a journalist, published seven non-fiction books and now am wading into the mystery pool. I live in Santa Fe, NM, and also write restaurant reviews for the ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL and help run the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference each year.

After winning laurels for your nonfiction work, what inspired you to take up the daunting challenge of continuing the Leaphorn & Chee series?

After my Dad died in 2008 and I recovered from the worst of my grief, I realized I was also missing Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. Those guys were like my adopted uncles, part of our family. That’s part one.

Part two concerns Bernadette Manuelito. After “SKELETON MAN,” Dad’s second-to-last book, I mentioned to him that I would love to see a story in which Bernie got to be the hero instead of getting rescued at the end. He agreed and said if he were writing five or six more installments in the series, he might do that. Maybe he was humoring me, but as we all know, he never had the chance to write that book. I thought Bernie deserved her time in the sun.

Part three involves two writer friends, Margaret Coel and Sandi Ault, both of whom encouraged, prodded and cajoled me into action.

David Morrell considers SPIDER WOMAN’s DAUGHTER a “worthy continuation of Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn & Chee series”. To what extent would you agree or disagree with his opinion?

I have a long-standing policy to never argue with a compliment. Especially one from an author like the amazing Mr. Morrell. I just blush and say “thank you.” I hope Dad’s fans enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

In SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER, do Leaphorn & Chee’s contrasting  attitudes to Navajo traditions and the imperatives of modernity remain constant or do they reveal the effect of changes in the American political and social landscape since 2006 (THE SHAPE SHIFTER)?

Since Dad did such a brilliant job of establishing those detectives, I saw no reason to mess with success. However, readers may note that marriage to Bernadette Manuelito has had what I would call a positive effect on Chee. I make more use of cell phones — even ones that take pictures — and text messaging as an acknowledgement of changing times.

How did growing up in the large family of a renowned writer shape your writing career?

My Dad and my Mom strongly believed in the value of reading, reading, reading and both encouraged me to write, starting with my first diary as a six-year-old. The exposure to the various personalities, adventures and inevitable conflicts that come from growing up with five siblings gave me lots of material to work with for characters and possible conflict, as well as examples of humor and generosity. When I was living at home, my Dad was working as a journalist and then as a college professor. (He wasn’t famous yet.)  His love of his work and his commitment to getting things right inspired me. The memory of his enthusiasm for a well-written sentence still makes me smile.

To what extent does your disciplined sensory perception as an authoritative gourmet connoisseur influence the quality of your narrative?

Is that another way to say I like to eat? Seriously, the years I have spent writing restaurant reviews helped me learn to get to the point, to focus in on important details, and to write with a perspective. For a good meal and a good book pacing, balance, variety and originality are all vital.

With regard to your writing, what, if any, conflicts of interest do you have to face? And how do you manage them?

I guess the biggest conflict is struggling to resist the pull of my other interests — my love of cooking, the fun I have skiing, traveling, and spending time with my family and friends —against the need to stay at the computer and tell the story. Another conflict is the seduction of endless research. I try to manage them and stay on track by reminding myself of my deadline.

How smooth or rocky did you find the transition from writing non-fiction to fiction?

I discovered that I enjoyed the freedom of fiction, especially when it came to creating some new characters to interact with Chee, Manuelito, and Leaphorn. But I missed the structure that comes with a non-fiction project. So, I guess the transition was sort of like traveling down a gravel road…not totally smooth but easily navigable.

Did you write SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER to an outline or just follow the story as it came?

I did some of both. I’m miserable at following outlines, but my feeble attempts did provide a good platform for the story to re-launch itself when I got bogged down. I knew how I wanted to begin and where it would end. That just left the middle …

Are you planning sequels to SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER? If so, with what frequency?

I’m working on the next mystery now and hope there will be more to follow. I’m not sure of the frequency. I want to make sure they’re the best I can write.

Do your immediate surroundings influence your ability to write?

I love writing best in my home office with my dog snoring nearby and my husband wandering in periodically to ask me where to find stuff or if I’d like a cup of coffee. But I can write anywhere.

And what do you do when you’re not writing or involved in related activities?

I never seem to have enough time to read (or sleep!), so that’s high on my list. I take classes at the gym to be with live people rather than my imaginary friends. I love to ski, work in the garden, and experiment with new recipes on my unsuspecting guests.


Anne HillermanAnne Hillerman began her career in journalism, working as a reporter, feature writer and editorial page editor for newspapers and magazines. She continues in journalism as restaurant critic for the ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL. Her seven non-fiction books include TONY HILLERMAN’S LANDSCAPE: IN THE ROAD WITH CHEE AND LEAPHORN (HarperCollins). Her work has received numerous honors including the Independent Booksellers’ Mountains and Plains Book Award, two New Mexico Book Awards and two Best of Santa Fe Awards. She was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award and is founding director of the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference.

To learn more about Anne, please visit her website.

Azam Gill
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