Written by ex-journalist and American author Tony Hillerman, the Leaphorn and Chee series is a mystery series set in the Southwestern United States and about Navajo tribal police officers, more precisely about the “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.
Hillerman died in 2008. A few years later, his daughter Anne Hillerman started to write the series, focusing more on Jim Chee’s wife, Officer Bernadette Manuelito. The series is also known as the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series since 2013.
How to read the Leaphorn & Chee Series in Order?
Every entry in the Leaphorn and Chee book series works as a standalone story, but the lives of the different characters evolve from one novel to the other.
- The Blessing Way – Homicide is always an abomination, but there is something exceptionally disturbing about the victim discovered in a high lonely place, a corpse with a mouth full of sand, abandoned at a crime scene seemingly devoid of tracks or useful clues. Though it goes against his better judgment, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn cannot help but suspect the hand of a supernatural killer.
- Dance Hall of the Dead – Two Native-American boys have vanished into thin air, leaving a pool of blood behind them. Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn has no choice but to suspect the very worst. But his investigation into a terrible crime is being complicated by an important archaeological dig . . . and a steel hypodermic needle.
- Listening Woman – The blind shaman called Listening Woman speaks of witches and restless spirits, of supernatural evil unleashed. But Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is sure the monster who savagely slaughtered an old man and a teenage girl was human. The solution to a horrific crime is buried somewhere in a dead man’s secrets and in the shocking events of a hundred years past.
- People of Darkness – A dying man is murdered. A rich man’s wife agrees to pay three thousand dollars for the return of a stolen box of rocks. A series of odd, inexplicable events is haunting Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police and drawing him alone into the Bad Country of the merciless Southwest, where nothing good can survive . . . including Chee.
- The Dark Wind – The corpse had been “scalped,” its palms and soles removed after death. Sergeant Jim Chee knows immediately he will have his hands full with this case. A mysterious nighttime plane crash, a vanishing shipment of cocaine, and a bizarre attack on a windmill only intensify Chee’s fears.
- The Ghostway – Old Joseph Joe sees it all. Two strangers spill blood at the Shiprock Wash-O-Mat. One dies. The other drives off into the dry lands of the Big Reservation, but not before he shows the old Navajo a photo of the man he seeks. This is all Jim Chee needs to set him off on an odyssey that moves from a trapped ghost in an Indian hogan to the seedy underbelly of L.A. to an ancient healing ceremony where death is the cure, and into the dark heart of murder and revenge.
- Skinwalkers – Three shotgun blasts rip through the side of Officer Jim Chee’s trailer as the Navajo Tribal Policeman sleeps. He survives, but the inexplicable attack has raised disturbing questions about a lawman once beyond reproach. Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn wonders why Chee was a target and what connection the assault has to a series of gruesome murders that has been plaguing the reservation.
- A Thief of Time – At a moonlit Indian ruin where “thieves of time” ravage sacred ground in the name of profit a noted anthropologist vanishes while on the verge of making a startling, history-altering discovery. Amid stolen goods and desecrated bones, two corpses are discovered, shot by bullets fitting the gun of the missing scientist. There are modern mysteries buried in despoiled ancient places, and Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee must plunge into the past to unearth an astonishing truth and a cold-hearted killer.
- Talking God – Reunited by a grave robber and a corpse, Joe Leaphorn is trying to determine the identity of a murder victim, while Officer Jim Chee is arresting Smithsonian conservator Henry Highhawk for ransacking the sacred bones of his ancestors. But with each peeled-back layer, it becomes shockingly clear that these two cases are mysteriously connected.
- Coyote Waits – The car fire didn’t kill Navajo Tribal Policeman Delbert Nez-a bullet did. And the old man in possession of the murder weapon is a whiskey-soaked shaman named Ashie Pinto. Officer Jim Chee is devastated by the slaying of his good friend Del, and confounded by the prime suspect’s refusal to utter a single word of confession or denial. Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn believes there is much more to this outrage than what appears on the surface.
- Sacred Clowns – During a kachina ceremony at the Tano Pueblo, the antics of a dancing koshare fill the air with tension. Moments later, the clown is found bludgeoned to death, in the same manner a reservation schoolteacher was killed only days before. Officer Jim Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn believe that answers lie in the sacred clown’s final cryptic message to the Tano people.
- The Fallen Man – Human bones lie on a ledge under the peak of Ship Rock mountain, the remains of a murder victim undisturbed for more than a decade. Three hundred miles across the Navajo reservation, a harmless old canyon guide is felled by a sniper’s bullet. Joe Leaphorn, recently retired from the Navajo Tribal Police, believes the shooter and the skeleton are somehow connected and recalls a chilling puzzle he was previously unable to solve. But Acting Lieutenant Jim Chee is too busy to take an interest in a dusty cold case…
- The First Eagle – For acting Lieutenant Jim Chee, the murder of a Navajo Tribal Police officer seems like an open-and-shut case when he discovers a Hopi poacher huddled over the victim’s butchered corpse. However, Chee’s newly retired predecessor, Joe Leaphorn, believes otherwise. Hired to find a missing biologist who was searching for the key to a virulent hidden plague, Leaphorn suspects both events are somehow connected.
- Hunting Badger – Three men raid the gambling casino run by the Ute nation and then disappear into the maze of canyons on the Utah-Arizona border. When the FBI focuses on a wounded deputy sheriff as a possible suspect, Navajo Tribal Police Sergeant Jim Chee and his longtime colleague, retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, launch an investigation of their own.
- The Wailing Wind – Officer Bernadette Manuelito found the dead man slumped over in the cab of a blue pickup abandoned in a dry gulch off a dirt road, with a rich ex-con’s phone number in his pocket . . . and a tobacco tin nearby filled with tracer gold. It’s her initial mishandling of the scene that spells trouble for her supervisor, Sergeant Jim Chee, but it’s the echoes of a long-ago crime that call the legendary former Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn out of retirement.
- The Sinister Pig – Sergeant Jim Chee is troubled by the nameless corpse discovered just inside his jurisdiction, at the edge of the Jicarilla Apache natural gas field. More troubling still is the FBI’s insistence that the Bureau take over the case, calling the unidentified victim’s death a “hunting accident.” But if a hunter was involved, Chee knows the prey was intentionally human. This belief is shared by the Joe Leaphorn, who once again is pulled out of retirement by the possibility of serious wrongs being committed against the Navajo nation by the Washington bureaucracy.
- Skeleton Man – 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.
- The Shape Shifter – Retirement has never sat well with former Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn. Now the ghosts of a still-unsolved case are returning to haunt him, reawakened by a photograph in a magazine spread of a one-of-a-kind Navajo rug, a priceless work of woven art that was supposedly destroyed in a suspicious fire many years earlier.
Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Books in Order:
- Spider Woman’s Daughter – Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito witnesses the cold-blooded shooting of someone very close to her. With the victim fighting for his life, the entire squad and the local FBI office are hell-bent on catching the gunman. Bernie, too, wants in on the investigation, despite regulations forbidding eyewitness involvement. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to sit idly by, especially when her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, is in charge of finding the shooter.
- Rock with Wings – Doing a good deed for a relative offers the perfect opportunity for Sergeant Jim Chee and his wife, Officer Bernie Manuelito, to get away from the daily grind of police work. But two cases will call them back from their short vacation and separate them-one near Shiprock, and the other at iconic Monument Valley. Under the guidance of their mentor, retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, Bernie and Chee will navigate unexpected obstacles.
- Song of the Lion – When a car bomb kills a young man in the Shiprock High School parking lot, Officer Bernadette Manuelito discovers that the intended victim was a mediator for a multi-million-dollar development planned at the Grand Canyon. But what seems like an act of ecoterrorism turns out to be something far more nefarious and complex.
- Cave of Bones – When Bernadette Manuelito arrives to speak at an outdoor character-building program for at-risk teens, she discovers chaos. Annie, a young participant on a solo experience due back hours before, has just returned and is traumatized. Gently questioning the girl, Bernie learns that Annie stumbled upon a human skeleton on her trek. While everyone is relieved that Annie is back, they’re concerned about a beloved instructor who went out into the wilds of the rugged lava wilderness bordering Ramah Navajo Reservation to find the missing girl.
- The Tale Teller – Joe Leaphorn may have retired from the Tribal Police, but he finds himself knee-deep in a perplexing case involving a priceless artifact-a reminder of a dark time in Navajo history. Joe’s been hired to find a missing biil, a traditional dress that had been donated to the Navajo Nation. His investigation takes a sinister turn when the leading suspect dies under mysterious circumstances and Leaphorn himself receives anonymous warnings to beware-witchcraft is afoot.
- Stargazer – What begins as a typical day for Officer Bernadette Manuelito-serving a bench warrant, dealing with a herd of cattle obstructing traffic, and stumbling across a crime scene-takes an unexpected twist when she’s called to help find an old friend. Years ago, Bernie and Maya were roommates, but time and Maya’s struggles with addiction drove them apart. Now Maya’s brother asks Bernie to find out what happened to his sister.
- The Sacred Bridge – Sergeant Jim Chee’s vacation to beautiful Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell has a deeper purpose. He’s on a quest to unravel a sacred mystery his mentor, the Legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, stumbled across decades earlier. Chee’s journey takes a deadly turn when, after a prayerful visit to the sacred Rainbow Bridge, he spots a body floating in the lake. The dead man, a Navajo with a passion for the canyon’s ancient rock art, lived a life filled with many secrets. Discovering why he died and who was responsible involves Chee in an investigation that puts his own life at risk.
- The Way of the Bear – An unexpected death on a lonely road outside of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument raises questions for Navajo Tribal Police officers Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito. Why would a seasoned outdoorsman and well-known paleontologist freeze to death within walking distance of his car? A second death brings more turmoil. Who is the unidentified man killed during a home invasion where nothing much seems to have been taken? Why was he murdered?
If you like our article about the Leaphorn & Chee reading order, don’t forget to bookmark it! You may also like to check out the Walt Longmire series.