A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson

A Serpent's Tooth

Read September 2015
Recommended for fans of Western mysteries
 ★    ★    ★    ★   

Do you think there are more crazy people in our country than anywhere else?” Walt’s latest project has Vic Moretti wondering about the mental health of her adopted state. You see, Barbara’s son is worried about Barbara’s stories that angels are doing her household repairs. And eating her fried chicken. While Walt speculates that the wide-open space attracts those who need a certain amount of space, I’m thinking Absaroka County, Wyoming isn’t all that different. People just have more space to let their crazy run wild. Just wait until Vic meets Van Ross Lynear and his twelve spaceships. It turns out that the angel is a teenage boy who has been kicked out of a local Mormon-based cult. When Walt goes looking for the teenager’s mother, he gets stonewalled by cult members who refuse to allow him on to their well-guarded property. Lacking probably cause, Walt tries various ruses to get a closer look, but the cult members have some significant connections.

At any rate, this was series redemption. Relationship issues are present, but take a back seat to matters of a religious sect and a missing woman. Characters really are quite interesting, and there are more than enough people introduced to make for a complex puzzle of relationships. (It’s always nice in an ongoing series when it isn’t immediately obvious who the ‘red shirts’ are). There’s a fair amount of humor here, mostly in the form of the wide variety of people we meet, particularly an elderly man claiming to be over 200 years old, but also from Vic’s wildly inappropriate cop humor. Along with Vic, the Cheyenne Nation assists in investigation and resolution.

‘Edgar Lynear was the first to ask from the other side of the truck bed, ‘We’re not already arrested?’
‘Not yet, but if I do it goes on your permanent record.’
‘What’s a permanent record?’
I turned and looked at Henry. ‘Doesn’t seem to carry the weight it used to.’

The writing has a nice balance of action and imagery:

He rammed his way past her, but to give her credit, even with a bloodied nose, she clung to his pant leg as he dragged her along with him… I made the four strides between us just as the pants slipped from his narrow hips. He darted into the living room, bounced off the room divider, and hurtled through the doorway. I watched helplessly as he skimmed off the porch and was gone like a sidewinder.

There’s a few points when I wondered if Walt was really considering what he was doing (or that Johnson was being consistent with character) but I was happy enough to follow along with the action and not get too caught in the details. At points, Walt actually caused more harm than the normal the old-timey sheriff, causing both personal and property damange. I suspect the tv series is showing influence, giving the reader/viewer the emotional satisfaction of rough justice. Likewise, there’s a traumatic event that really serves no purpose except to provide an easy justification for vengeance. I found this time I appreciated Vic providing a more analytical viewpoint to Walt’s kind-heartedness.

Overall, I’d say despite a few shortcomings, this book is proof that the series is still worth my time. There is something to be said for a feel-good story where bad guys will lose, good guys will triumph and redemption is possible.

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About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Mystery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson

  1. Steph says:

    As a utahn I’m always interested in Mormon based cults and how books portray them. If you like this type of mystery/western you should try the Moroni Traveller series.

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