11 Best Authors Like Tony Hillerman: Masters of Southwest Mystery and Intrigue

Discover our guide with top authors like Tony Hillerman, who skillfully blend mystery, suspense, and regional storytelling elements.

Authors like Tony Hillerman have carved out a distinctive niche by setting their stories in the American Southwest, blending elements of crime thriller fiction with regional storytelling and cultural exploration. This unique blend of intrigue and local color creates a compelling tapestry that has attracted readers worldwide, drawn to the region’s vivid landscapes and diverse communities.

Hillerman’s ability to weave intricate mysteries while paying homage to the cultural tapestry of the Southwest has led to a new generation of authors who share his passion for regional America and its stories. The following carefully curated list showcases eleven talented authors who offer their voices and perspectives.

Best Authors Like Tony Hillerman Ranked

1. Craig Johnson, 1961 –

Craig Johnson
Photo of Craig Johnson, smiling with a cowboy hat on his head

Craig Johnson is an award-winning author known for his bestselling Walt Longmire mystery series. His works have garnered critical acclaim and have won the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award, the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers’ Association’s Reading the West Book Award, and the Prix du Roman Noir. Johnson’s writing is appreciated for its evocative settings, rich character development, and intricate plots.

One of Craig Johnson’s most popular novels is The Cold Dish, the first book in the Walt Longmire series. This is the first book in the series, introducing Sheriff Walt Longmire, a dedicated lawman in the rural Wyoming town of Absaroka County. As he investigates the murder of a young man, Longmire faces personal and professional challenges, delving deep into the heart of his community. The book combines traditional Western and modern crime fiction elements, resulting in an engaging and atmospheric read.

“Sometimes you get a flash of what you look like to other people.”

Craig Johnson, The Cold Dish

2. William Kent Krueger, 1950 –

William Kent Krueger
Photo of William Kent Krueger at a book signing in Saint Paul, MN

William Kent Krueger is an American author known for his Cork O’Connor mystery series, set in the northern Minnesota wilderness. Krueger’s novels have won numerous awards, including the Anthony Award, the Barry Award, and the Minnesota Book Award. His writing is praised for its evocative descriptions, a strong sense of place, and vividly-drawn characters.

One of Krueger’s standout novels is Ordinary Grace, a standalone mystery that won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. The story revolves around Frank Drum, a young boy in 1960s Minnesota who is confronted by death and darkness in his small town. As secrets come to light, Frank must navigate the complexities of family, faith, and morality. Ordinary Grace is a poignant and beautifully written exploration of the human condition. Check out these authors like William Kent Kruger.

“We all have our routines…But they must have a purpose and provide an outcome that we can see and take some comfort from, or else they have no use at all.”

William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace

3. C.J. Box, 1958 –

C.J. Box
Book cover of Free Fire

C.J. Box is an American author celebrated for his Joe Pickett series, featuring the Wyoming game warden as the protagonist. Box has received multiple honors for his work, including the Edgar, Macavity, and Anthony Awards. A strong sense of place, engaging characters, and thrilling storylines characterize his writing. Free Fire, the seventh installment in the Joe Pickett series, stands out as one of Box’s best works.

In this book, Pickett becomes embroiled in a dangerous conspiracy involving illegal hunting, a murdered businessman, and a deadly foe. The story showcases Box’s ability to combine environmental themes with gripping suspense, making it a standout novel.

“It was easier to stay away and keep a rigid ideology when not mugged by reality.”

C.J. Box, Free Fire

4. Michael McGarrity, 1939 –

Michael McGarrity
Photo of Michael McGarrity

Michael McGarrity is an American author known for his popular Kevin Kerney crime series set in New Mexico. A former law enforcement officer, McGarrity brings authenticity to his novels with his detailed knowledge of police work. His writing has earned him recognition and accolades, including the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Hard Country, the first novel in McGarrity’s American West trilogy, is a standout work in his bibliography. This sweeping historical epic traces the lives of multiple generations of the Kerney family as they navigate the challenges of life in the American Southwest. Rich in historical detail and vividly evoking the landscape, Hard Country showcases McGarrity’s storyteller skill and ability to create an immersive reading experience.

“Life was a series of choices, each one colored by the vagaries of chance and circumstance.”

Michael McGarrity, Hard Country

5. Nevada Barr, 1952 –

Nevada Barr
Photo of Nevada Barr smiling

Nevada Barr is an acclaimed American author known for her Anna Pigeon series featuring a National Park Service ranger. Barr’s work has won numerous awards, including the Agatha and Anthony Awards. Barr’s writing is distinguished by its vivid descriptions of the natural world, engaging plots, and strong female protagonist.

The Rope, a prequel to the Anna Pigeon series, explores Anna’s journey to becoming a park ranger. Set in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the novel weaves a suspenseful tale of survival and self-discovery as Anna faces a life-threatening situation in the remote wilderness. The Rope is an excellent introduction to the series and showcases Barr’s ability to create tension and atmosphere.

“Suffering is part of life…It’s the price we pay for being alive.”

Nevada Barr, The Rope

6. James Lee Burke, 1936 –

James Lee Burke
Book cover of Black Cherry Blues

James Lee Burke is an American author celebrated for his Dave Robicheaux series, which follows the adventures of a Louisiana detective. A two-time Edgar Award winner, Burke is known for his lyrical prose, atmospheric settings, and complex characters. His work often explores themes of morality, corruption, and redemption.

Black Cherry Blues is the third novel in the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke. In this installment, the protagonist, Dave Robicheaux, is a former New Orleans homicide detective who has relocated to rural Louisiana to run a bait shop and live a quiet life. However, his peaceful existence is disrupted when an old friend, Dixie Lee Pugh, shows up and confesses to Robicheaux that he inadvertently became involved in a murder cover-up related to the mafia and the local oil industry.

Looking for more suspense novels to read? Check out our round-up of the best books like Da Vinci Code.

“In a badass, beer-glass brawl, would you rather have an academic liberal covering your back or a hobnailed redneck?”

James Lee Burke, Black Cherry Blues

7. Margaret Coel, 1937 –

Margaret Coel
Book cover of Killing Raven

Margaret Coel is an American author known for her Wind River Reservation mystery series, which features Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Jesuit priest Father John O’Malley. Coel’s novels are praised for their accurate and sensitive portrayal of Native American culture, as well as their engaging plots and memorable characters.

Killing Raven, the ninth book in the Wind River Reservation series, is an excellent example of Coel’s work. The novel follows Vicky and Father John as they investigate the murder of an unknown man, which leads them into a dangerous conspiracy involving an archaeological dig. Killing Raven is a captivating and well-researched mystery that immerses readers in the culture and history of the Arapaho people.

“Every day is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”

Margaret Coel, Killing Raven

8. Dana Stabenow, 1952 –

Dana Stabenow
Book cover of A Cold Day for Murder

Dana Stabenow is an American author best known for her Kate Shugak series, which features an Aleut private investigator in Alaska. Stabenow’s novels have earned her several awards, including the Edgar and Nero Awards. Her writing is recognized for its strong sense of place, authentic portrayal of Alaskan life, and engaging characters.

A Cold Day for Murder, the first novel in the Kate Shugak series, introduces readers to the resourceful and resilient protagonist as she investigates the disappearance of a National Park ranger. Set against the backdrop of the Alaskan wilderness, the novel masterfully combines elements of mystery, adventure, and cultural exploration. Stabenow’s attention to detail and vivid descriptions bring the Alaskan setting to life, making it a standout novel in the series.

“Sometimes the only way to deal with the past is to leave it behind.”

Dana Stabenow, A Cold Day for Murder

9. Steve Hamilton, 1961 –

Steve Hamilton
Book cover of The Second Life of Nick Mason

Steve Hamilton is an American author celebrated for his Alex McKnight series, which follows a former Detroit cop turned private investigator in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Hamilton’s work has earned him numerous accolades, including the Edgar Award and the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award. His writing is characterized by engaging plots, strong character development, and atmospheric settings.

The Second Life of Nick Mason, a standalone novel, is one of Hamilton’s best works. The story follows Nick Mason, a man released from prison after striking a dangerous deal with a criminal mastermind. As Mason struggles to navigate his newfound freedom, he becomes entangled in a web of crime and betrayal. The novel showcases Hamilton’s skill for crafting fast-paced, suspenseful narratives with complex characters and high stakes.

If you are looking for more mystery books, check out our round-up of the new books by Nelson Demille. You can also use the search bar at the top right of the page to search for the best books.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Steve Hamilton, The Second Life of Nick Mason

10. Tony Fennelly, 1940 – 2016

Tony Fennelly
Book cover of The Gory Hole Murders

Tony Fennelly was an American author best known for her Margo Fortier mystery series set in New Orleans. Wit, humor, and evocative depictions of the New Orleans setting characterize Fennelly’s writing. Her work has been praised for its strong female protagonist and engaging plots.

The Glory Hole Murders, the first book in the Margo Fortier series, introduces readers to the feisty newspaper columnist and amateur sleuth. When a prominent judge is murdered in a seedy adult bookstore, Margo is drawn into the investigation, which uncovers a web of corruption and dark secrets. The novel showcases Fennelly’s talent for creating a vivid sense of place and crafting memorable characters.

“You can’t turn the clock back, but you can always wind it up again.”

Tony Fennelly, The Glory Hole Murders

11. David Thurlo, 1955 – 2016

David Thurlo
Book cover of Blackening Song

David Thurlo was an American author known for his Ella Clah mystery series, co-written with his wife, Aimee Thurlo. Set on the Navajo Reservation, the series features a Navajo police officer and FBI agent as the protagonist. Thurlo’s novels are praised for their authentic portrayal of Navajo culture, engaging plots, and strong characters.

Blackening Song, the first novel in the Ella Clah series, introduces readers to the complex and determined protagonist. As she investigates the murder of her father, Ella Clah must navigate the challenges of her dual identity as a Navajo woman and an FBI agent. The novel is a compelling blend of mystery, cultural exploration, and character-driven storytelling. You can also check out these authors like Walter Mosley and authors like Mary Higgins Clark.

“Sometimes the only way to find the truth is to walk through the darkness.”

David Thurlo, Blackening Song

Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best detective novel series!


  • Kate has been writing since she was 10 years old, tapping away on an old typewriter in her childhood bedroom. Today, Kate is a seasoned freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing for print and online media. She’s an avid reader and believes in the power of words to transport readers to new worlds, and inspire and nurture creativity. Kate is also a published author and is currently working on her next project.