As Anne Hillerman kicks off the release of her fifth novel, she's still catching up to her dad, Tony, whose 18 volumes began the stories of detectives Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. Added to them now is Anne's new heroine, Bernadette Manuelito, a Navajo woman honing her investigative skills, and other recurring characters. The Tale Teller is set for release April 9 from HarperCollins publishers, and the Santa Fe resident spends that night on home turf. (6 pm Tuesday April 9. $30; includes a signed book. Violet Crown Cinema, 1606 Alcaldesa St., 216-5678).

We know you don't want to spoil it for us, but what's going to surprise us about this new book?

Joe Leaphorn, who was the character with which my dad started the series and a character I haven't really brought to the foreground in my books, is the main crime-solver in The Tale Teller. And I think people will be surprised because I have been using him all along as a kind of a supporting, sort of fatherly, grandfatherly type to the two younger detectives, but in The Tale Teller he gets to take the reins.

You got a three-book deal after Rock with Wings, so is this the last one under that contract? Are there likely more books on the horizon?

Let me think (laughs). There is one more—the one I am working on now. This is why I didn't become an accountant. [SFR: In the future?] Yes, I think so. I just got assigned a new editor at HarperCollins who has kids in preschool, so I am thinking she is going to want to work with me at least until her kids are out of high school. So we will see. I'm really enjoying writing these stories. Every time I am working on one, I am coming up with other ideas that don't really fit in this book so I just make a list of them. Hopefully, I will live long enough to get all of these ideas put into books.

What are your strategies for keeping the storylines fresh at this point?

I try to move the stories to different settings on the Reservation, and part of my research process is actually driving to the places I write about. So, part of what keeps my batteries charged is the road trips, having that time in the car, driving through that beautiful scenery so I can just think about stuff. Usually there is no cell phone service, so I don't have to worry about getting phone calls. That really helps. I subscribe to the Navajo Times and I really try to keep up with what is going on in the Reservation and in the world and incorporate some of those threads into my stories, too.