Review and Interview with Anne Hillerman

By Joan Leotta
(October, 2013)

By Anne Hillerman

HarperCollins. Release Date October 1, 2013
Hardcover $26.99
Kindle $13.59
ISBN-10: 0062270486
ISBN-13: 978-0062270481

Anne Hillerman has certainly learned the knack of a "killer" opening scene that makes you want to read more. This book starts out fast and keeps running on high right to the end.

Mystery is more than solving the crime it is also untangling the series of relationships that pulls the plot together and the reader into a close relationship with the author and the characters.

Tony Hillerman's stories always excelled in all of those elements and Anne Hillerman continues in that tradition. She is true to her father's style, characters, and settings while managing to make the book wholly her own in style and characterization. From the time I opened the book, I was entranced. Hillerman has definitely made these characters her own. Bernie Manuelito is the star of this book. She is a later character in the Chee/Leaphorn series and in the last book Tony Hillerman wrote, she marries Detective Chee. Anne picks up the storyline of these fictional people I have come to love and takes us once again into their lives, focusing on Bernie. Although her father did take us into Bernie's thoughts and skills in his books, Anne extends the character. Bernie is the star here.

The review on the book gives us some of Anne Hillerman's point of view on writing the book: "When I emerged from the worst of my grief after Dad's death, I realized that I was also mourning the end of his mystery series. I missed those detectives, and I especially regretted that Bernadette Manuelito would never get a book that put her in the spotlight. And then I thought: I could try writing Bernie's book myself. If I didn't like it, I could hit the delete key. In addition to HILLERMAN'S LANDSCAPE, I had written several other books, so I knew part of the challenge that faced me. I jotted down some ideas as a rough outline and got to work."

Anne Hillerman gave OMDB! some further insights and they are recorded in the questions below. In my opinion as a mystery fan and unabashed fan of this series, SPIDER WOMAN'S DAUGHTER is a book that challenges the reader with an intricate plot and thrilling march to solution while allowing us to grow closer to characters we love and enjoy. Our interview appears below:

OMDB!: What prompted you to take up the family fiction writing mantle?

Anne Hillerman: I feel as though Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are part of my family, uncles we talked about at the dinner table. After my Dad died in 2008 and I recovered from the worst of my grief, I realized that I also missed the Chee/Leaphorn stories. And I thought Bernadette Manuelito, Dad's "other" Navajo detective, deserved the opportunity to play a larger role in a novel.

OMDB!: Did your father leave notes on the characters?

Anne Hillerman: Nope.

OMDB!: While he was alive did you discuss plot and characters with him?

Anne Hillerman: Dad loved to share just-finished excerpts of his novel where he thought things had come together well and I never tired of hearing him read. His excitement was palpable. He occasionally mentioned challenges he was dealing with. I think verbalizing them may have helped him find a resolution. I suggested that he consider a book in which Manuelito would play a larger role, and he said he liked the idea...but, as readers know, he never got around to writing it.

OMDB!: Did you feel you honored your dad as well as the characters by writing the book?

Anne Hillerman: I wouldn't use the word "honor," but I am pleased with the book. I wish Dad were around to read it and give me his critique. I enjoyed the process of working with his characters and creating some of my own. I felt closer to Dad when I was at work on it.

OMDB!: I notice that you give a two year gap between the last book of your dad's and the story in this one. You take Chee in a softer, great husband direction and we learn more about Bernie's family. The other characters stayed pretty much the same, although we get new insights into Leaphorn. How did you decide the direction to take?

Anne Hillerman: Gosh, that's an interesting question. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to give Bernie a chance to shine, to not be the girl-friend-who-gets-rescued. I wanted her to act like a full-fledged police officer. Every book in a series needs new characters, so I came up with a few. I also created some returning roles for characters Dad had used to good advantage.

OMDB!: Is Bernie somewhat modeled on you? Many writers (even your Dad I'm sure) base favorite characters on people they know. I got the feeling from the beginning (the intro of Bernie by your Dad, years ago) that Bernie probably modeled many traits your Dad loved in you and your Mom. Comments?

Anne Hillerman: In SPIDER WOMAN'S DAUGHTER, Bernie is like me in some ways. For example, we both love our Moms and we both feel uneasy with loose ends. Leaphorn's wife Emma is the character who reminds me most of Mom. Like Emma, Mom prefers to stay out of the public eye. Leaphorn got great advice from Emma and used her as a sounding board for his ideas; the same was true of Dad with Mom. Mom was always his first reader and best editor.

OMDB!: Even in the earlier books when your Dad first develops the relationship between Chee and Bernie, Chee loves Bernie for her mind as well as all else and is not jealous or threatened when she "jumps ahead." This story shows that even more. Applause! I'm guessing both your husband and your father were men of the same ilk — secure enough to value strong, smart women. Can you comment?

Anne Hillerman: That's a great observation. My husband worked with me on TONY HILLERMAN'S LANDSCAPE: ON THE ROAD WITH CHEE AND LEAPHORN, and his beautiful photos make that book even more special to me. He also is working with me now to create a Powerpoint slide show for book talks on SPIDER WOMAN'S DAUGHTER.

OMDB!: Your respect and love for the Navajo traditions and people are evident in the book. Can you tell me a little about the research you did for this book? (Especially about the weavings.)

Anne Hillerman: Besides a lot of reading, I have been lucky enough to travel on the Navajo nation as a study guide with the Road Scholar program (previously known as Elder Hostel). There's nothing like teaching to help with learning. We visited the Crownpoint Rug Auction, an event organized by a Navajo weaving cooperative as part of that trip. I have been fascinated by the amazing Hosteen Klah weavings ever since I was blessed to see them as a young girl when I went with Dad to visit the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art — now the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe.

OMDB!: Can we hope for more adventures featuring Bernie and Chee, revealing more about them and Bernie's relationship with her sister and mom?

Anne Hillerman: Yes indeed. I ought to be working [on] book two right now!

OMDB!: Also, if we do, will we learn more about the other weaving by Hosteen Klah? (The other one that Bernie's mom saw?)

Anne Hillerman: I [am] not sure yet of all the twists and turns the story will take. I do plan to use the beautiful and rugged reservation country of Monument Valley as one of my settings.

OMDB!: Do you think you would have ever attempted to carry forward characters written by anyone other than your dad? I'm sure these characters probably seem like family to you after 18 books!

Anne Hillerman: No. I wouldn't have done it with anyone but Dad. I talked to my mom and Dad's long-time editor before proceeding and both gave me their support and good wishes.

OMDB!: I like the way you brought your new hometown of Santa Fe into the book. Can we expect more Santa Fe scenes if the series continues?

Anne Hillerman: Perhaps. Bernie's sister has some artistic tendencies. She might want to go to the Institute of American Indians Arts in Santa Fe. Or, some complication might bring the detectives to Indian Market.

OMDB!: Is there anything else you would like to tell the OMDB! readers?

Anne Hillerman: I hope readers enjoy SPIDER WOMAN'S DAUGHTER as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks for the interesting questions!

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