The Dark Wind

The Dark Wind
First edition cover
Author Tony Hillerman
Cover artist Myers & Noftsinger
Country USA
Language English
Series Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee Navajo Tribal Police Series
Genre Detective fiction
Set in Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation in Southwestern United States
Publisher Harper & Row
Publication date
Media type Print and audio
Pages 214
ISBN 0-06-014936-1
OCLC 7738198
Preceded by People of Darkness (1980)
Followed by The Ghostway (1984)

The Dark Wind is the fifth crime fiction novel in the Joe Leaphorn / Jim Chee Navajo Tribal Police series by Tony Hillerman, published in 1982. It is the second of the novels to feature Officer Jim Chee.

Now working from Tuba City, Sgt. Chee is assigned four cases by Capt. Largo. A drug-smuggling plane crashes, and Largo insists Chee stay away from that case, a tough challenge as he gathers information from Hopis, whites and Navajos to solve the original cases.

Reviewers found this to have a "classic Hillerman plot", involving a plane crash, possibly illegal drugs, a vandalized windmill on the Joint Use lands.[1] It is "relentlessly introspective" and "with Hillerman's moodily fine prose in full Southwest regalia", as the Hopi and the Navajo ways are contrasted, and Chee explores a white man's motivation, of revenge.[2]

Plot summary

Jim Chee is assigned four cases to solve by Captain Largo, his new boss at the Tuba City, Arizona office of the Navajo Tribal Police. One is to ascertain who stole jewelry from the Burnt Water trading post, and to find the paroled man suspected of the thievery, Joseph Musket. The third is to find who is vandalizing a windmill in the Joint-Use lands recently allotted to the Hopi. Fourth is to learn the identity of the Navajo man found dead on the path to Kisigi Spring.

While he is on stakeout near the windmill one night, a small plane crash lands in the Wepo Wash. Chee runs to the crash, finding the pilot and his passenger dead, and a man sitting up in a business suit, holding a card, murdered. As he approaches, he hears someone leaving on foot in the early morning darkness. He also hears a gunshot, most likely the one that killed the man in the business suit, and sees headlights of a vehicle leaving the scene. The airplane was carrying illegal cargo, likely drugs, and the DEA agents, in particular T. L. Johnson, are possessive of their law enforcement turf.

As Chee collects information on Joseph Musket and on the unidentified corpse, he gradually learns information related to the crash and the drug deal. Johnson finds this as reason to invade Chee's home in the morning, including beating Chee up, in Johnson’s usual style. Johnson puts forward that Chee was present so soon after the plane crashed because Chee is part of the drug smuggling. The deteriorated condition of the corpse, found over a week after death, makes identification impossible. Later, Albert Lomatewa provides the exact date of death and how the corpse looked, hands and feet flayed as if by a Navajo "skinwalker", or witch. Chee meets Jake West, owner of the Burnt Water trading post, where the jewelry theft was reported, and briefly the employer of Musket. West’s son, Thomas Rodney West, was killed recently in prison; he had been friends with Joseph Musket since childhood. Chee presses Cowboy Dashee to arrange an interview with the Hopi elder responsible for a shrine near the windmill. Dashee translates. Chee makes a deal with Taylor Sawkatewa: Chee will bring supplies to stop that windmill, which interferes with water flow around the shrine, in return for Sawkatewa telling all he saw and heard in the time it took Chee to reach the plane crash site. A man forced another to place the landing lights in the wrong place, and then shot him dead. Items were removed from the plane but they were not placed in the car that left the scene. From the pilot’s sister, Chee learns a meeting is set up for transfer of the drugs during a private Hopi kachina ceremony. She wants revenge, or justice, for her brother’s death. Revenge is not a Navajo concept, so Chee struggles to understand it as motivation.

Chee arrives at Sityatki, the old Hopi village, having retrieved the two aluminum suitcases filled with cocaine from their hiding place in the sand at the crash site. Both Jake West and Johnson appear, the former expected, the latter a surprise. West has killed the drug kingpin, figuring he is responsible for his son’s murder while he was held in prison. Johnson is there not truly as a DEA agent, but as the man who wants these drugs, which he claims are worth $15 million. After Chee arrests and handcuffs West, Johnson does the same to Chee. As this encounter unfolds, a rare intense rainstorm breaks the long drought, rapidly making dangerous rivers in the usually dry arroyos. At Chee’s vehicle, Johnson gets the suitcases of cocaine. Johnson’s plan is to kill the other two. Chee explains how Johnson visited Thomas West in prison, such that the other prisoners assumed he was a snitch and killed him in regular confinement. Johnson could have handled that so Thomas lived. Jake West understands this means he killed the wrong man in revenge for his son’s death. Chee grabs one suitcase and throws it at Johnson. It then slides to the river which horrifies Johnson, who runs to save the cocaine. West follows and pushes Johnson into the river. Chee tells West that the unidentified corpse will be checked against Joseph Musket’s prison dental records, and it is clear that West killed Musket. West says that the jewelry reported stolen is hidden in his kitchen, just before he dies from the gunshot wound received from Johnson. West killed six men before reaching Johnson to avenge his son's murder. Chee reflects that all this time, Capt. Largo insisted that Chee stay out of the drug smuggling case. Not wanting to be criticized, Chee hurls the other suitcase full of cocaine into the raging river, all other active cases having been solved.



Kirkus Reviews finds this novel slower than earlier novels in this series, and introspective.

Strongly atmospheric but far less suspenseful than People of Darkness, this second case for Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police (who's also an apprentice Navajo chanter/shaman) moves into the neighboring Hopi culture on the joint Southwest reservation--as Chee ponders possible connections among a quartet of simultaneous cases. There's a body found on Hopi territory--its feet and hands skinned: a sign of witchcraft afoot. There's a robbery by ex-con Joseph Musket, who has now weirdly disappeared. There's vandalism of a Hopi windmill (by angry, dispossessed Navajos. . . or by Hopis disturbed by a violation of ritual?). And, beyond Chee's official jurisdiction, there's a Mesa plane-crash-cum-murder, apparently involving drug-smuggling: where are the drugs? Chee broods about all these crimes; he himself is suspected by the FBI of complicity in the drug-caper. And, before he traps the murderer and exposes a revenge-motive, there are visits to a prison, a medicine-man, and (repeatedly) the bleak mesa. A few nice twists, with Hillerman's moodily fine prose in full Southwest regalia; but this time the darkness is murky almost as often as it's chilling--in the slowest, most relentlessly introspective case yet for the Navajo Tribal Police.[2]

Another reviewer says Dark Wind is "The classic Hillerman plot: A plane crash, possibly tied to a drug deal, a corpse whose palms and feet have been scalped (destruction of evidence or Navajo corpse medicine?), and a traditional Hopi wanted for sabotaging a windmill, all wound together in a surprising and consistent conclusion. Hillerman concentrates this book on the distinctions between Hopi and Navajo, and he uses Chee's status as a traditional Navajo to advantage in a number of scenes."[1]


The novel has a major theme of the culture, religion and myths of the Hopi people, and some of the contrasts between Hopi ways and Navajo ways. The Hopi and the Navajos shared a view of the land that did not require rigid boundaries and exclusive ownership. Arrival of Europeans and contact with the US forced the notion of exclusive ownership, raising up problems of a new nature between the tribes. Views of nature and death are contrasted between the two cultures, especially in conversations between the Navajo policeman and the Hopi deputy sheriff. Revenge is another theme driving the plot, a concept Chee finds unfamiliar, so he studies it.

Allusions to real events and places

The plot makes reference to Joint Use lands with both Navajo and Hopi making use of the land. This is a long-standing dispute, and even the resolution mentioned in the story, a 1974 public law and following court cases assigning one large area for the Hopi, requiring thousands of Navajos to move, did not resolve the issue.[3][4] Although the situation was in some sense settled by a 1996 law, the issues continue to this day.[5] The Hopi have lived in this large area for thousands of years, arriving before the Navajo. Further, the people of each tribe have different patterns of settlement (Navajo are dispersed over larger amount of land, originally from their occupation as sheepherders, while the Hopi are generally settled in villages, raise corn, make art and jewelry).[5]

The corpse is found on the path to Kisigi Spring, which is an important Hopi spruce shrine. It is a real place, but its exact location is not mapped, to keep it more private.[6]

The Hopi village of Sikyatki is more of a ruin than the novel suggests, Tony Hillerman says in the author's note. "Time has been even crueler to the village of Sikyatki than is suggested herein. It was abandoned long ago and sand has drifted over what remains of its ruins."[7]

The ceremonies and sacred places of the Hopi on the mesas in their reservation are mentioned often and incorporated in the plot. Hillerman says "Like Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police, I am an outsider on the Hopi Mesas. I know only what one learns from long and respectful interest, and suggest that any of you who wish to learn more of the complex Hopi metaphysics turn to more knowledgeable writers. I particularly recommend The Book of the Hopi by my good friend Frank Waters."[7][8]


The novel was adapted as the feature film The Dark Wind in 1991.[9] It starred Lou Diamond Phillips as Jim Chee, Fred Ward as Joe Leaphorn and Gary Farmer as Cowboy Dashee. It was directed by Errol Morris, a documentary film-maker making his dramatic feature debut. Robert Redford was executive producer, hoping for a series of films, but he was unhappy with the production and director. In an article on the successful adaptation of Skinwalkers in 2002, Redford said of The Dark Wind that "The film, says Redford, wasn't any good and wasn't released. "That was a false start," Redford says. "It was miscast. It was ill-conceived and I didn't think it was the right beginning for the series. It wasn't distributed.""[10]

There are substantial differences between the movie and the novel, as the movie focussed heavily on the conflict that arose between Navajo and Hopi in the Joint Use areas, and the subsequent court case that decided the issues, where the novel has four cases for Jim Chee to solve, and in the process to aid the federal agencies in the case of the crashed plane carrying drugs into the US.

Redford would later bring the series[1] to PBS's Mystery, making three films from later novels in the series.[11]


  1. 1 2 3 "Tony Hillerman's Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn Mysteries, Dark Wind". Dancing Badger. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  2. 1 2 "Dark Wind" (April 1, 1982 ed.). Kirkus Reviews. April 4, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  3. Gilles, Cate (March 31, 1997). "Hopis tell Navajos: "Lease or leave'". Paonia, Colorado: High Country News. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  4. Giese, Paula (March 20, 1997). "Navajo - Hopi Long Land Dispute". Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  5. 1 2 "Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute". American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation. ABC-CLIO. 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  6. Linford, Laurence D. (2005). Tony Hillerman's Navajoland: Hideouts, Haunts, and Havens in the Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Mysteries (Second ed.). University of Utah Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-87480-848-3. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  7. 1 2 Hillerman, Tony (1982). The Dark Wind. p. Author's Notes.
  8. Waters, Frank (1977). The Book of the Hopi. Penguin Books paperback. ISBN 978-0140045277.
  9. The Dark Wind at the Internet Movie Database
  10. King, Susan (November 17, 2002). "The bestseller they couldn't sell". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
  11. "American Mystery! Special". PBS and WGBH. 2003. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
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