mckenzie badcountry
The Tony Hillerman Prize
for a best first mystery novel is one of my favorite competitions to launch new authors.

It is sponsored by Thomas Dunne Books and Minotaur Books, imprints of St. Martin's Press, and Wordharvest, co-founded by Hillerman’s daughter, Anne.

The Hillerman Prize is awarded annually to the best debut crime fiction set in the Southwest, which gives readers a new view of this region. The prize has garnered a reputation for introducing excellent authors, whose novels also respect the memory of the late Hillerman, who died in 2008

Some of the previous authors have made my best-of-the-year debuts.

Andrew Hunt’s City of Saints, which won in 2012, is set in Depression-era Utah. Hunt’s novel shows that Salt Lake City in 1930 is an evocative setting to explore Utah’s history, its people, and how a person with a deep faith lives in an increasingly secular world.

Tricia FieldsThe Territory, which won in 2010, delivers an action-packed yet personal story about the infiltration of Mexican drug cartels in a small Texas town. Chief of Police Josie Gray is a fully realized character who fights the good fight against all odds.

I also enjoyed Roy Chaney’s 2009 debut The Ragged End of Nowhere, a story about modern Las Vegas that also works as a novel about the quest for identity as a man delves into the life of his estranged brother who recently died.

Last year, the competition introduced C.B. McKenzie’s Bad Country, set in Tucson, the Pascua Yaqui and Tohona O’odham reservations, and southernmost Arizona. And McKenzie is now up for an Edgar Award, which was announced recently.

The next author to bear the Tony Hillerman stamp will be John Fortunato, at left, whose Dark Reservations will come out in 2015.

Fortunato JohnHillermanprize
According to his bio, Fortunato was a captain in the U.S. Army, Military Intelligence, who served at the Pentagon during the early part of the Global War on Terrorism. He is now a Special Agent with the FBI and has earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. A native of Philadelphia, he currently lives in Michigan with his wife and three daughters.

I’ve always thought that a series that keeps alive the spirit of the late Hillerman’s novels is a terrific idea. The Southwest is a fascinating region and this contest has maintained a quality in its selections.

Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee mysteries, set on the Navajo reservation, were the first “regional” mysteries to become national bestsellers. Hillerman, who died at the age of 83, was able to combine Navajo traditions and beliefs along with the stark beauty of the Southwest in involving plots.

Hillerman’s daughter, Anne, launched the first Tony Hillerman Writers Conference in 2004. And Anne Hillerman brought back Leaphorn and Chee in her novel Spider Woman’s Daughter in 2013.

For more information, contact Hector DeJean at 646-307-5560 or hector.dejean@stmartins.com.

The deadline for submissions to next year's competition will be June 1, 2015. For complete guidelines, visit www.hillermanconference.com.

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