Indigenous Authors/Indigenous Detectives

By Andrew Hazard

I grew up on Tony Hillerman's classic mysteries featuring Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police. But it's only in the last few years that the authors of books featuring indigenous sleuths started to resemble their characters. I know this is a somewhat limited selection--seven from the United States, one from New Zealand--but there will surely be more. I look forward to updating this list.

  • Winter Counts: A Novel

    2020 by Weiden, David Heska Wanbli

    Few inhabitants of South Dakota’s Rosebud Reservation have any faith in the law. It’s the kind of place where a man like Virgil Wounded Horse can make a living meting out rough justice, somewhere between an unlicensed private eye and ethical hired muscle--he’ll hurt people for money, but only if he’s satisfied they deserve it. When his teenage nephew is caught up in a DEA investigation, Virgil must navigate a heroin cartel, duplicitous tribal politicians, and his own complicated role in a community that’s already seen too much violence.

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  • Sisters of the Lost Nation

    2023 by Medina, Nick

    This fascinating debut is a coming-of-age mystery about an (implicitly neurodivergent) teen who discovers her “Two Spirit” identity while battling human evil. Seventeen-year-old Anna Horn has what by 1996 is an unusual degree of interest in her people’s lore, and a job cleaning hotel rooms has made her intimately familiar with the dark side of the tribe’s casino-fueled prosperity. And now, young women and girls connected to the hotel have started disappearing. The author based the fictional “Takoda” nation on the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe (of which he is a member) and its Louisiana reservation.

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  • Shutter

    2022 by Emerson, Ramona

    The prohibition on contact with the spirits of the dead is deeply rooted in Navajo (Dine) culture. Albuquerque crime scene photographer Rita Todacheene learned to hide her unsettling ability after a failed exorcism during her reservation childhood, but particularly intrusive ghosts are telling her not to believe the official story about their deaths. Flashbacks show the role cameras and photography have played in Rita’s family, going back to her grandmother’s residential school days. This supernatural-tinged mystery was nominated for a National Book Award.

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  • Murder on the Red River

    2021 by Rendon, Marcie R.

    Years after Sheriff Wheaton (who does what he can for his people while “passing” for white) saved her from an abusive foster home, Renee “Cash” Blackbear is adrift, doing some farm work, hustling some pool. Wheaton once more changes the course of Cash’s life when he asks her to help solve the murder of an unidentified man he suspects came from the Red Lake Reservation, where she was born. The Red River Valley ca. 1970 will be a familiar setting to readers of Louise Erdrich, who calls Rendon’s amateur sleuth “a warm, sad, sharp, funny, and intuitive young Ojibwe woman.”

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  • Fire Keeper's Daughter

    2021 by Boulley, Angeline

    A new blend of methamphetamine that seems to reflect knowledge of traditional Ojibwe “medicine” practices is causing enough harm to get the Feds involved. When the violence that follows the drug claims someone close to Daunis Fontaine, the high school senior puts her chemistry skills and ties to the Sugar Island community to use, partnering with a dangerously ambitious undercover officer who refuses to tell her his real name and claims not to know his tribal background. To be clear, this is NOT a “Native American Nancy Drew” story; it’s an at times devastating book that doesn’t shy away from real darkness, and all the victories are bittersweet.

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  • Never Name the Dead: A Novel

    2022 by Rowell, Donna M.

    While Silicon Valley consultant Mae “Mud” Sawpole didn't take the path her grandfather wanted for her, an alarming message from the old man is still enough to put her on a redeye flight back to Oklahoma’s Kiowa Reservation. James Sawpole seems to have vanished, another tribal elder lies dead in his artist’s studio (but who was the intended victim?), and a bunch of people are looking at Mud like she should have answers. There’s talk of wildcat frackers polluting the reservation's water, and of irreplaceable cultural treasures falling into the wrong hands. The action unfolds over a tight 12-hour period; several plot threads are deliberately left hanging for future entries.

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  • Blood Sisters

    2023 by Lillie, Vanessa

    Syd Walker is an archeologist for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs who dreads being "the white woman who brings up her Cherokee heritage when it's convenient." In 2008, she's pulled back to the hometown that holds only bad memories (in a state that doesn't recognize her marriage, no less) by a gruesome discovery--her first BIA ID card, embedded in a skull that could be the key to both a 15-year-old murder and the recent disappearances of Native women. This series-opener arrives to favorable reviews in The New York Times, Cherokee Phoenix, and other publications.

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  • Better the Blood: A Hana Westerman Thriller

    2023 by Bennett, Michael

    Ever since a shameful episode at the start of her career, Auckland Dec. Senior Sgt. Hana Westerman has tried to ignore the paradoxes of being a Maori cop. This gets harder when her own daughter calls her a traitor to her people. Matters come to a head when someone starts using a traditional weapon to murderously avenge an injustice dating to the European conquest of New Zealand...and Westerman's family has a part in the killer's design.

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