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Book Author: Craig Johnson

THE LONGMIRE DEFENSE by Craig Johnson: Book Review

Every Walt Longmire novel is a joy to read, and Craig Johnson’s latest, the 19th in the series, is simply perfect.

The long-time sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, is still continuing to think about retirement.  Readers don’t know how old Walt is, but since he served as a marine in the Vietnam conflict, he has to be seventy at the very least, doesn’t he?

In The Longmire Defense, it’s Walt’s incredible determination to find the truth about a long-ago event that brings him closer to death than ever before when he’s faced with the possibility that his deceased grandfather might have been a murderer.

The story begins three-quarters of a century ago when a group of Wyoming investors buy a bank after its failure.  The members of the bank’s board of directors, including Lloyd Longmire, are on a hunting trip when one of its members, Big Bill Sutherland, is accidentally shot to death.  Or so it’s believed at the time.

However, days later another member of the hunting party dies, and a year after that a third member disappears while on a fishing trip, never to be seen again.  Now Walt discovers that these three men plus his grandfather were involved in the handling of a Wyoming monetary fund that is the precursor of the Mineral Trust Fund; its value today is over eight billion dollars.

But it appears that various interested parties don’t want Walt’s inquiry to proceed, even so many decades later.  Lucian Connally, Absaroka County’s former sheriff, is hinting, not so subtly, to leave the case alone, and a man named Mike Regis has been sent from Cheyenne to help Walt “put the fire out,” as he refers to the sheriff’s investigation into the financial dealings of the state.

Then, while he’s out aiding a woman on a mountain road, Walt discovers an abandoned rifle, a .300 H & H Magnum, identical to the one that killed Sutherland years earlier.  It matches the gun in a photo that appears to have been taken the day Big Bill Sutherland was killed, and the weapon is being held by Luke Longmire.

Other things start happening.  A man Walt has asked to do some investigating about Sutherland is critically shot; a very high tech drone, military-style, is flying over the county; a man on a motorcycle is wandering around Walt’s daughter’s house in the middle of the night; and the rear window of Walt’s car is shot out.

Some personal things are going awry as well.  Walt is facing a possible challenge in the next election by one of his deputies, Santiago Saizarbitoria, a hero of the local Basque community.  And Victoria Morelli, another deputy and Walt’s long-time love interest, is missing.

As always, Craig Johnson has written a mystery that brings the reader directly into the heart of Absaroka County and the lives of those who live there.  Once again, meeting the members of the sheriff’s department as well as Walt’s daughter Cady is like catching up with people you’ve known for years, and the author’s gift for dialogue makes you feel that you are listening to actual conversations.

You can read more about Craig Johnson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.






DAUGHTER OF THE MORNING STAR by Craig Johnson: Book Review

Did you know that the chance of a Native American woman being murdered is ten times the national average of a non-Native woman being murdered; that twice as many Native women experience violence and rape as do their non-Native counterparts; that the suicide rate of Native teenagers is two and a half times greater than the national average?  These are the horrifying statistics that led Craig Johnson to write his latest Sheriff Walt Longmire mystery, Daughter of the Morning Star.

Jaya Long is a young woman of the Northern Cheyenne Nation who has been receiving threatening letters, so many letters that she’s lost count.  When Longmire asks her if she thinks her life is in danger, her response is, “I am a young woman in modern America, living on the Rez–my life is always in danger.”

And sadly, even beyond the alarming statistics noted above, Jaya’s life is a troubled one.  Her father is in and out of jail, her mother is an alcoholic, one brother was shot to death, another committed suicide, one sister was hit by a car and killed, and her older sister Jeanie went to a party a little more than a year before the book opens and never came home.  Little wonder that Jaya has surrounded herself with almost impenetrable defenses.

Walt is asked by Lolo Long, the tribal police chief of the Northern Cheyenne, to find out who is sending the notes to Jaya.  Before Jeannie’s disappearance, she too had been receiving threats, and it appears that Longmire won’t be able to investigate Jaya’s problems without doing the same regarding her sister’s.

Making things even more tense is the upcoming basketball tournament, the National Native American Invitational.   More than just a high school rivalry with bragging rights, winners of the NNAI are often recruited by elite colleges; without the accompanying scholarships, no girl on Jaya’s Lame Deer team could afford a college education.

Jaya is truly outstanding, the team’s best player, but her attitude is that she can do it all herself.  According to the team’s coach, Jaya has it all “except for being a decent teammate.”  Maybe that’s because in her life outside basketball there’s no one she can depend on–why should it be any different on the team?

As always, Walt Longmire and his colleague Henry Standing Bear make a formidable team, but this time they may be facing powers that are literally outside their realm. 

They may be dealing with the Éveohtsé-heómėse, The Wandering Without, described as an all-knowing being, a black spiritual hole that does nothing but devour souls.  Henry tries to explain it to Walt, telling him it’s something like limbo, a “plain of existence between the two worlds, the camps of the dead and the living.”  It’s easy to dismiss this as superstition, but when Walt himself encounters it, he can’t explain it away.

Always a masterful storyteller, Craig Johnson once again draws us into Absaroka County and its interactions between the Native and white communities.  The characters are so realistic and the story is so poignant that it keeps the reader entranced and terrified until the last page.  And then….

You can read more about Craig Johnson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.



NEXT TO LAST STAND by Craig Johnson: Book Review

Every time I read another Walt Longmire mystery I feel as if I’m meeting an old friend.  There is something so real, so down-to-earth, about the Wyoming sheriff that I am always delighted to be in his company again.

In Next to Last Stand, Walt is still recovering from the injuries he received when he traveled south of the border in search of his abducted daughter more than a year ago.  He’s back in Absaroka County, but physically and emotionally he is still carrying the scars from his trip to the northern Mexican desert.

Years earlier, just back from Vietnam, Walt struck up a friendship with several men at the Veterans’ Home of Wyoming, in particular with Charlie Lee Stillwater, an Army vet who fought in the Korean War.  Now Walt gets a call from Carol Williams, the administrator of the Home, to tell him that his friend died during the night and that she would like him to stop by as soon as possible.  When Walt arrives and he and Carol  go to Charlie’s room, she shows him a shoe box she had found that morning, filled with hundred dollar bills adding up to one million dollars.

There’s also a fragment of a painting, an artist’s proof, slipped into the folds of the blanket on Charlie’s bed.  It’s old, still showing vibrant colors, and portrays an Indian and a cavalry officer locked in a struggle to the death.  Neither Carol nor Walt has any idea how the dead man came to have it in his possession, Walt decides to take it to a museum a few towns away to see if anyone there knows where it came from or how Charlie could possibly have gotten it.

One of America’s most famous battles was fought in what was then the Montana Territory.  It has various names–The Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer’s Last Stand, the Battle of the Greasy Grass (the latter the name given by the Indians who fought there),–and it took place in June, 1876.  It became immortalized in a painting by Cassilly Adams.  Walt is beginning to believe that somehow Charlie Lee had the original Adams painting and sold it, thus explaining the money found in his room.

There are two particularly wonderful scenes in Next to Last Stand that help explain my admiration for Walt Longmire and his creator.  In one, he’s placed a man accused of domestic abuse and kidnapping in a holding cell, and in defiance the prisoner has covered himself with Vaseline so the sheriff can’t grab him and take him out to the transport van that will take him to California to face charges there.  In the following scene, Walt discovers that the van’s drivers have been on the road for seventeen hours straight and not attending to the medical and physical needs of their passengers.  Walt’s handling of both these issues is so clever, so ingenious, that they alone make the novel worth reading.

But, of course, there’s much more–a closer look into Charlie Lee’s death, the possibility of uncovering the missing painting that for years has been presumed burned, the search for the veteran’s heirs, Walt’s unhappy mental state–all these things, plus Walt’s usual sidekicks–his deputy sheriff and romantic interest Victoria, his closest friend Henry Standing Bear, his long-suffering dispatcher Ruby–all combine to make Craig Johnson’s latest mystery one of the year’s best.

You can read more about Craig Johnson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


LAND OF WOLVES by Craig Johnson: Book Review

Sheriff Walt Longmire is back in Absaroka County, Wyoming, after a trip to Mexico that left him bruised in body and mind.  He is trying to regain his equilibrium so that he can continue to protect the people of his county, but he’s wondering if he’ll ever “pick up the step” he’s lost.

He and his deputy/lover Victoria Moretti have been summoned by the County Brand Inspector and an employee of the National Forest Service to view the carcass of a sheep which appears to have been killed by a wolf.  The issue is that the wolf is in a predator zone, i.e., an agricultural area where the animal is considered a predator or a nuisance and may be shot on sight by anyone.

Walt and Vic find out that the sheep is part of a herd belong to Extepare Abarrane, a landowner of Basque extraction, and that this particular section is under the care of Miguel Hernandez, a Chilean herder.  While Walt is searching for Hernandez, he comes across Keasik Cheecho, a nurse and self-described volunteer for the Wolf Conservancy out of Missoula, Montana.

She’s distraught at the idea that one of the wolves the conservancy is protecting may have killed a sheep and thus be a target itself, and she agrees to take Walt to the camp in which Hernandez lives to learn more.  The hut is empty, so the two of them walk deeper into the surrounding woods.  There Walt sees the bare feet of a man hanging from a tree; it’s Miguel Hernandez.

Large in area but small in population, everything in Absaroka Country is connected sooner or later.  At the same time that Walt and other officials are trying to quell fears that a dangerous wolf, or possibly more than one, is nearby and a threat to people and animals, the sheriff’s office gets a call that the grandson of the Basque landowner Abarrane is missing from his grandparents’ home.

There are custody issues involved, as well as the possibility of domestic abuse, and the sheriff’s investigation isn’t made easier by the fact that Abaranne himself isn’t at home, that his wife has dementia, and Keasik Cheecho keeps popping up where, at least in Walt’s opinion, she isn’t wanted.

This latest novel by Craig Johnson is, as is true of the others in the series, a combination of an excellent mystery and a probing look into an almost vanishing slice of American life.  Even Walt, who has withstood his office’s increasingly impatient demands that he enter at least the twentieth century, if not the twenty-first, and get a computer, finds himself weakening.  It is impossible to read one of the Longmire books and not wish to meet the author.

You can read more about Craig Johnson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


A SERPENT’S TOOTH by Craig Johnson: Book Review

It’s always a delight for me when I check Craig Johnson’s web site and find that he’s written a new Walt Longmire mystery.  His latest one, A Serpent’s Tooth, is a wonderful addition to the series.

Walt is the sheriff of rural Absaroka County, Wyoming.  Attending the funeral of one of its citizens, Walt gets into a conversation with Barbara Thomas.  The subject is angels, and Barbara tells Walt how angels have been coming to her house and doing all the minor repairs and clean-ups that make home owning difficult for a widow of advancing years.  They have cleaned her gutters, fixed the door on her porch, and various other small jobs.   They don’t ask for money, but Barbara leaves a list of jobs for them and a plate of food, and pretty soon the repair is done and the food is gone.

Naturally, Walt doesn’t believe in home-repair angels, and when he and his deputy Victoria Moretti drive out to Barbara’s home they find a teenage boy repairing the trap under the kitchen sink.  When the boy hears Walt’s greeting, he bolts from the house and Walt and Vic are unable to catch him.  Walt tries to follow up with the local high school and social services department, but no one has heard of this boy.

When Walt and Vic return to search the outbuildings around Barbara’s house, they find evidence of someone living in the small dilapidated pump house–a cot, a blanket, and an 1889 copy of the Book of Mormon.  And when Walt finally catches up with the boy, whose name is Cord, he finds him to be half-starved and nearly totally unaware of many of the aspects of modern living.

Thus begins the sheriff’s involvement with the Apostolic Church of the Lamb of God, a rogue offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Several branches of this church have been established in the rural west, and one has set down roots in the mountains of Walt’s county.  The boy is a runaway from this group.  Apparently his mother was looking for him a few weeks earlier in South Dakota, but when that county’s sheriff went to the address she had given him to tell her her son was found, no one there would admit knowing the mother or the son.  And the South Dakota group is the same Apostolic Church that is in Walt’s county.

In addition to Cord, another mysterious stranger has appeared in town, the self-proclaimed Orrin Porter Rockwell, Danite, Man of God, Son of Thunder.  The only problem is that the real Orrin Porter Rockwell was born in 1813.  The 21st-century Orrin proclaims himself Cord’s bodyguard, and the two of them together are almost too much for the law in Absaroka County.

Walt Longmire is a fabulous character, a lawman who tempers justice with mercy and understanding.  He is a widower, and his romantic relationship with his deputy Vic, given the difference in their ages and backgrounds, is a problem for him but not for her.  His relationship with his only child, Cady, who is married to Vic’s brother, is also difficult, and the upcoming birth of Cady’s first child is filling Walt with both joy and trepidation.

Craig Johnson is a terrific writer who knows how to make all of his characters alive.  You can read more about him at his web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.

THE COLD DISH by Craig Johnson: Book Review

“Revenge is a dish best served cold” is attributed to three different authors, according to Wikipedia.  And although the readers of Craig Johnson’s novel don’t know who among the cast of characters has been waiting for revenge, or for how long, there’s no doubt that the murderer believes it’s worth the wait.

The Cold Dish, first in a series that began in 2005, just popped out at me from my library’s shelves a couple of weeks ago.  I hadn’t read anything about this book or the ones that follow it, but when I read the flap about a sheriff in a remote Wyoming town solving the shootings of two teenagers who had been convicted of raping a young Indian girl with fetal alcohol syndrome, it reminded me of a real case that took place not too long ago.  Also, one of the reasons I read so many mysteries is because they take me to locations I’ve never visited, and small-town Wyoming fits that bill.

Sheriff Walt Longmire is a 50-ish widower who still mourning his wife three years after her death.  He can’t seem to move ahead in his personal life, living in a log cabin with minimal walls, minimal plumbing, and unpacked boxes in every room.  His only child lives two thousand miles away, and he times his calls to her when he’s sure she won’t be home or available at work.  In his professional life, however, Longmire is capable and trusted; he’s been sheriff of this county for nearly twenty years.

The case involves the murder of one of the four boys who was convicted of brutally raping the Melissa Little Bird two years before the story opens. The four were given extremely short sentences, and many of the townspeople, as well as the girl’s family on the nearby reservation, believe that justice wasn’t served.  The ringleader and least repentant of the four is murdered first, and a second murder soon follows.  Although Longmire is totally unsympathetic to the rapists, he does want to uphold the law and stop the murderer before the other boys become victims as well.

The sheriff is also dealing with some issues in his personal life.  After walling his emotions and desires away since his wife’s death, he finds he’s now attracted to two women.  One is a recently hired deputy who is in an unhappy marriage; the other is a well-to-do woman who has returned to the county after years back east.  Longmore feels himself awkward and rusty in the romance department, but his interest in the women shows a breach in the wall of solitude he has constructed for himself since becoming a widower.

I plan to read all the remaining books in Johnson’s series–Walter Longmire is an interesting man whose career I want to follow.

You can also learn more at Craig Johnson’s web site.