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Skeleton Man, is a New York Times best-seller and is seventeenth in the Chee/Leaphorn Navajo Tribal Police series of crime fiction novels by Tony Hillerman.

Plot Summary

When two passenger airplanes collide over the Grand Canyon in the 1950s killing all aboard, John Clarke's body is lost, as is the briefcase of diamonds he had locked to his wrist. Scorning Mr. Clarke's pregnant fiancee, the wealthy Clarke family disclaims the out-of-wedlock daughter, Joanna Craig.

When Clarke's father dies without heir shortly after the crash, the family fortune is entrusted to the estate's attorney, Dan Plymale, to create a charitable foundation. Mr. Plymale then proceeds to live well as executor of the foundation's funds, while Joanna Craig and her mother struggle in comparative poverty.

Decades later, Billy Tuve, a Hopi, is arrested on suspicion of burglary and murder based on his possession of a rare diamond. Tuve's cousin, Cowboy Dashee solicits help from his friend Navajo Tribal Police Sergeant Jim Chee to clear Tuve's name. When retired Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn learns that his old acquaintance "Shorty" McGinnis acquired a similar diamond many years ago from a man whose story matches Tuve's story, the search begins in earnest for the missing diamonds and whatever may remain of John Clarke's body.


In addition to Chee and Leaphorn, returning series characters include:

  • Bernadette Manuelito, formerly an officer with the Navajo Tribal Police, now fiancee of Jim Chee
  • Cowboy Dashee, Deputy Sheriff of Navajo County, AZ
  • John "Shorty" McGinnis, proprietor of the Short Mountain Trading Post
  • Professor Louisa Bourbonnette, Leaphorn's friend and sometimes housemate

New characters introduced in this novel include:

  • Billy Tuve, Hopi, member of the Bear Clan
  • Bradford Chandler, aka Jim Belshaw, hired by Plymale to locate the diamonds and John Clarke's remains
  • Dan Plymale, attorney for the Clarke family and executor of the Clark family fortune
  • Fred Sherman, hired by Chandler to assist in the search for the missing diamonds
  • Hal Simmons, Ms. Craig's attorney
  • Joanna Craig, purported daughter of John Clarke

Natural, Cultural & Historical References

Geographic, botanical, animal, historical, and cultural artifacts and events often play key roles in the Chee/Leaphorn series - either as direct plot elements, to explain character motivations or perspectives, or to illustrate cultural orreligious beliefs and practices. In Skeleton Man this includes:

See also


  1. New York Times best-seller list for December 19, 2004
  2. Tony Hillerman: A Critical Companion by John M. Reilly
  3. Talking Mysteries: A Conversation with Tony Hillerman By Tony Hillerman and Ernie Bulow
  4. Seldom Disappointed: A Memoir by Tony Hillerman
  5. Tony Hillerman's Navajoland by Laurance D. Lindford and Tony Hillerman

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