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Skeleton Man

Publisher’s Description

Though he may be retired, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn hasn’t lost his curiosity or his edge. He’s eager to help Sergeant Jim Chee and his fiancée Bernie Manuelito with their latest case—clearing an innocent kid accused of robbing a trading post.

Billy Tuve claims he received the precious diamond from a strange old man in the canyon. Could it be one of the gems that went missing in an epic plane crash decades earlier? Now that it may have resurfaced, it’s attracted dangerous strangers to the Navajo lands.

Proving Billy’s innocence won’t be easy. Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito must find the remains of a passenger who died in the crash—one of 172 lost souls whose remains were scattered across the magnificent tiered cliffs of the Grand Canyon.

But nature may prove their deadliest adversary. To find the proof they need, the detectives must battle a thunderous monsoon and a killer as they plunge deeper into the dark realm of the Hopi Lord of Death—the guardian of the underworld known as Skeleton Man.


I read Skeleton Man (Leaphorn and Chee, #17) by US author Tony Hilerman.

Skeleton Man follows Sergeant Jim Chee and his fiancée Bernie Manuelito as these Navajo tribal police officers investigate Navajo robbery suspect Billy Tuve when he tries to pawn a large diamond from a decade old plane crash over the Grand Canyon. Tuve claims innocence and he received the diamond from a Skeleton Man in the canyons. Sergeant Chee consults retired Lieutenant Jim Leaphorn and the meaning behind the Skeleton Man – a Hopi legendary guardian of The Underworld. Determining if the Skeleton Man Tuve claims he met with and exchanged a knife for a a diamond is crucial to proving his innocence.

The case soon becomes dangerous when private investigators behave unlawfully and a race to recover the decades old remains of a passenger who travelled with diamonds encased and strapped to his wrist during the plane crash. His daughter – unrecognised by the family or company – may finally have her inheritance recognised if she can recover the remains of her father. As the monsoon storms gather above the Grand Canyon and rains threaten to flood the canyon, the answer lies with the mysterious figure of the Skeleton Man.

Final Thoughts

Skeleton Man is a well-written and fascinating historical mystery that combines crime and both Navajo and Hopi folklore and legends alongside a great sense of respect for the canyon landscape and the indigenous peoples who care and guard the land.


A great combination of mystery, history, crime and Navajo and Hopi folklore. A recommended read!

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