Hillerman is a combat veteran from World War II who worked as a journalist from 1948-1962. Then he earned a Masters degreee and taught journalism from 1966-1987 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee have appeared (with other memorable characters) in more than a dozen books. Hillerman's writing is noted for the details he provides about the culture of the people he writes about (Hopi, European-American, federal agents, as well as Navajo.
His works in nonfiction and in fiction reflect his appreciation of the natural wonders of the American Southwest.