Native American Mystery, Crime, and Detective Fiction

Native American Mystery, Crime, and Detective Fiction examines a range of texts, most of them Native-authored, that utilize elements of a popular and accessible literary genre: the mystery, crime, and detective story. The examined texts convey how writers fuse tribally-specific cultural elements with characteristics of mystery, crime, and detective fiction as a way to, as I argue, inform all readers about Native American histories, cultures, and contemporary issues. Exploring how Native American writers approach the genre of mystery, crime, and detective fiction is critical, since it is a sub-genre of American Indian literature that has, to date, received little scholarly attention.

This study considers eight novels and two made for TV movies that are either written by Native American writers, feature Native American characters and settings, or both. The novels and films that are analyzed represent a spectrum of mystery, crime, and detective stories: starting with the historical mysteries about the Osage Oil Murders presented by Linda Hogan and Tom Holm; to the calls to action regarding contemporary issues of justice, jurisdiction, and violence against American Indian women offered by Frances Washburn and Louise Erdrich; to the short series that invoke intricate questions about history and identity created by Louis Owens; and, finally, to Tony Hillerman’s immensely popular hard-boiled Navajo tribal policemen who are brought to the small screen by Chris Eyre, where the distinctions between Western and Indigenous conceptions of healing and spiritual belief are highlighted. These novels and films illustrate a range of American Indian mystery, crime, and detective fiction, and my analysis illuminates the ways in which these texts work to inform and transform readers in regard to issues that surround crime and justice within American Indian contexts.


Mary Stoecklein


Franci Washburn




College of Social and Behavioral Sciences