This past summer friends tipped me about a couple of local writers. C.J. Box I presented in an earlier blog. Craig Johnson is from Ucross, Wyoming, population 26, and in his picture on Wikipedia he looks like a laid back cowboy. But you can’t tell a book by its cover.
Walt Longmire is sheriff of the fictional Absaroka County in the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains in north central Wyoming. He went to college in California, he was in Vietnam where he did his first police work, but he’s been sheriff in his old home town for the past 25 years. He’s thinking about retiring, but is too ornery. He’s big and strong and he’s got a philosophical bent as well as being highly literate.
Walt usually answers questions with a “yep” or a “nope”. But as he is the first person narrator we hear a different voice, there’s a lot going on behind the strong silent exterior. The first book I read was The Dark Horse (2009) which is the 5th book in the series. Then I went back and started from the beginning with The Cold Dish (2004) and have now just finished the 3rd adventure Kindness goes unpunished (2007).
Each story can stand alone. Johnson is a good story teller and he has a rich fabric of personalities surrounding Walt: Lucian, the retired former, Walt’s deputy Vic(toria) Moretti “a beautiful intelligent woman with a body like Salome and a mouth like a saltwater crocodile”. His other Deputy is Sandro (Santiago Saizarbitoria) of Basque extraction. His dispatcher, Rose, tries to keep him in line. First and foremost is his good friend Henry Standing Bear - a Lakota – an Indian – who runs the Red Pony, a local bar. “When my Indian friends hear the term ‘Native American’, they laugh”.
To this rich mixture Johnson adds a strong blend of other characters that form a community. Durant is a fictional town but as a former Wyoming resident I can tell you it is real.
The plots are quite convoluted, always with more than a few surprises. The setting is – usually – Wyoming; big sky, mountains, prairie, small towns and lonely ranches. Then, suddenly, in book 3 Walt heads “back east” to Philadelphia! Seasons change; and in the high plains and the mountains the weather is always important. In “The Cold Dish” Walt is trapped up in the mountains in the middle of a blizzard. In other stories storms and rain
Walt is the kind of character who you just know is going to make everything right, he’s kind and comforting, sharp and tough but funny too. He’s good company.