by Oline H. Cogdill

wolf kevin
The Tony Hillerman Prize for best first mystery has become one of my favorite annual contests because of the quality of debut authors it has launched.

The crime fiction that wins the Hillerman Prize is set in the Southwest and honors the spirit of those wonderful mysteries that Hillerman wrote.

The latest winner of the contest is Kevin Wolf, who is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Crested Butte Writers. He lives in Littleton, Colorado, with his wife of 40 years and their two beagles. Wolf’s novel The Homeplace will be published during 2016.

Wolf joins an elite group of writers. Previous winners include John Fortunato’s Dark Reservations; CB McKenzie’s Bad Country, which was nominated for a 2014 Edgar Award; Andrew Hunt’s City of Saints; Tricia Fields’ The Territory; Roy Chaney’s The Ragged End of Nowhere; and Christine Barber’s The Replacement Child.

I have found the authors who take the Hillerman Prize write such affecting plots that capture the scenery so well. Many of their novels have made it to my best-of-the-year list.

Thomas Dunne Books/Minotaur Books and Wordharvest co-sponsor the award that is given annually at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee mysteries were set on the Navajo reservation and are considered to be the first "regional" mysteries to become national bestsellers. Hillerman’s novels combined Navajo traditions and beliefs in contemporary plots. His books have been translated into many languages and frequently make the New York Times bestseller list. Hillerman died at age 83 on October 26, 2008.

Hillerman’s daughter, Anne Hillerman, brought back Leaphorn and Chee in her 2013 novel Spider Woman’s Daughter; her novel Rock With Wings was published this year.

Anne Hillerman launched the first Tony Hillerman Writers Conference, Focus on Mystery, in 2004 through Wordharvest, the business which she co-founded with Jean Schaumberg.

For more information about the Hillerman Prize, please visit