Although I have yet to see the A&E tv series Longmire, I’m enjoying my trot (well, okay; gallop) through the source material. Walt Longmire, county sheriff, has over twenty-five years in the field and is supervisor of a very small team of deputies. As with many books in the detective fiction, the mystery is deeply imbued with a sense of place, notably the sparsely populated and rugged landscapes of rural Wyoming. As in many mysteries, Longmire has a faithful comrade-in-arms, but instead of the generally dopey Watson stereotype, his companion is a far wiser long-time friend, Henry Running Bear. Henry is a man of seemingly infinite talents and an artistic soul and when in Wyoming, is often Walt’s ambassador to Native reservations.
In this book, Henry is escorting a collection of unusual historical photographs out to an exhibition in Philadelphia. Walt decides the timing is right to meet his daughter Cady’s boyfriend, so the two decide to make a trip of it. It is a bold authorial choice to take your detective hero out of the home environment so early in a series, particularly when your mystery is so intimately tied to the intricacies of the setting. In this case, Johnson wisely continues to integrate setting, letting Walt play tourist to involve a number of prominent locations in the story.
Johnson is gifted at the ‘show, don’t tell’ style of storytelling, and occasionally I find myself pausing, realizing he just dropped an implication. This little gem aptly displays his skill with just a few words:
“‘No, I was just thinking. I do that, sometimes, before I talk.’
Lena smiled, this time with her entire mouth. ‘Not me, robs the evening of all its spontaneity. A little wine, a little truth, and pretty soon you’ve got a real conversation on your hands.’ She took a last sip.
I started to pour us both some more. It seemed like the conversation was getting interesting, and I wasn’t quite ready to leave it.”
This installment stands out in the interplay between Henry and Walt. Although Henry is the primary motivator in making the trip, he ends up nicely balancing support of Walt and Cady with his own work. It’s always interesting to me to see how a writer deals with ethnicity, and I feel Johnson generally avoids turning Henry into a Native trope. Parat of what elevates the characters is the decades-long history between the two, which Johnson illustrates in his usual understated way:
“After Michael left, we sat in chairs on either side of the bed and watched Cady. ‘It was the right thing to do.’
I had been listening to him think it for so long, I wasn’t sure if I needed to reply. ‘Yep.’”
Humor played a more prominent role in this story, although it was often only evident to the reader. I enjoyed Walt’s dry sense of humor, as well as his confidence in wearing his comfortable Western clothes in a major city.
“I opened my coffee and looked at the decisively dark brew. ‘This looks strong.’
‘Espresso, tall, double-shot. I thought you could use it.’ She looked at me. ‘How’s she doing?’
I took a sip and swallowed most of the enamel from my teeth.”
Even I, sports-adverse as I am, laughed at this sports-related one, made as Walt and Henry were taking in a baseball game:
“He looked at me and shook his head. ‘Where do you want to hide the body?’
“I just want to talk to him.’
The Bear pursed his lips. ‘How about behind third; the Phillies have not shown any signs of life there in years.’”
I enjoyed the mystery, although at one or two points, it seemed excessively convoluted, but I felt it unraveled remarkably similar to real life. The emotional complexity as Walt faced certain issues was very interesting, balanced between melodramatic and stoicism. I was perhaps just slightly too obsessive to me, but I’m not a parent, so what do I know? Johnson gives a nice sense of the difference between Walt’s exterior and his interior, no easy feat in a book that focuses on action. Really, it fit me perfectly, suspenseful without being horrific, emotionally sophisticated with complex characters and enough humor to make it palatable. The ending scene would have made me laugh out loud if Johnson didn’t have such a deft hand for pathos. Un-putdownable, I’m already on to the next in the series.