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Posts Tagged ‘Wyoming’

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.


DISGRACED by Gwen Florio: Book Review

Vacation?  Who wants a vacation?  That’s the thinking of Lola Wicks, a newspaper reporter in Magpie, Montana.  Due to a budget cutback she’s been forced to take a three-week unpaid furlough, and she reluctantly heads to Yellowstone with her five-year-old daughter Margaret to spend part of that time trying to relax and forget about covering stories.  Then a favor for a friend and a deadly shooting wreck Lola’s plans.

Lola’s colleague at the paper, Jan Carpenter, asks Lola to make a detour and check on her cousin Pal Jones, a soldier recently returned to Thirty, Wyoming, from Afghanistan.  Jan is worried because her cousin has stopped responding to emails and phone calls.  Jan can’t leave Magpie, and she feels that Lola, who had been in Afghanistan several years earlier reporting on the war, will be able to connect with Pal (short for Palomino) and find out what’s going on.  Lola agrees reluctantly, but she’s determined to make her visit as brief as possible.

What Lola finds when she gets to Thirty is a tall, gaunt, almost wordless woman who has no interest in telling Lola anything at all, certainly nothing about her war experiences.  Together, along with Margaret, they go to the Casper airport to welcome another returning vet home.  But as Cody Dillon steps onto the tarmac, he shouts out, “It’s alive,” and fatally shoots himself in front of nearly all the people of the town.

The always-searching reporter, Lola can’t help looking for the reason that the young man killed himself and for the issues that are besetting these veterans.  What she finds are several different stories about what happened to the group, including Pal, the only woman, who enlisted in the Army the day after their high school graduation.  Pal’s closest friend, a Native American named Mike St. Clair, was killed in Afghanistan, two other members of the group nearly stomped a third one to death, and now a fourth has committed suicide.

And yet that doesn’t explain Pal’s withdrawal from the world, not to mention the ever-increasing number of cuts on her left arm.  Why is she self-harming?  And did Lola actually see a smile on Pal’s face when Cody shot himself, or did she simply imagine it?

Gwen Florio’s novel looks deeply into small-town secrets, barely-concealed racism, and the disparate stories surrounding Mike St. Clair’s death.  In the midst of all this is Lola’s reluctance to accept the marriage proposal of Charlie, Margaret’s father and Lola’s partner of six years.  Why can’t things stay just as they are, she wonders.  But Charlie wants the permanence of marriage, and he’s getting tired of waiting for her answer.

Disgraced is a powerful novel, with headlines that are totally relevant today.  You may think that Lola’s desire to get a story borders on obsession, but she’s convinced that only the truth will free Pal from her demons and explain the deaths that followed the Thirty veterans on their tour of duty and beyond.

You can read more about Gwen Florio at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.



BADLANDS by C. J. Box: Book Review

Nothing could be more ordinary than a twelve-year-old boy delivering newspapers so early in the morning that it’s still dark.  And nothing could be more ordinary than a speeding car going off a curving road in that same darkness.  But there’s nothing ordinary in the sequence of events that follow, bringing terror and death to the small town of Grimstad, Wyoming.

Kyle Westergaard has recently acquired a paper route, and he rides his route every morning, his bike heavy with the Tribune.  On this particular morning he sees the car crash that will change his life.

Two town police cars arrive almost immediately at the scene, but separately.  The officers look in the car and realize that nothing can be done for the man inside it, who is definitely dead.  When the two deputies turn and see Kyle, the older one wants to question him but then, looking at him more closely, says to his fellow deputy, “Look, see his face?  He won’t be any help.”  It’s clear from his features that Kyle suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  The short nose, upward slanted eyes, flattened cheekbones, and small head all indicate that Kyle is a boy with major developmental and intellectual disabilities, one who can’t be expected to help the police at all.

What the police don’t know is that a small bundle is thrown from the speeding car as it crashes and that Kyle picks it up and brings it home.  Home is a run-down cottage that houses Kyle, his mother, and his mother’s latest partner, T-Lock.  When Kyle gets home after his paper route is finished he puts the bundle under the garage workbench, but as luck would have it T-Lock finds it and is waiting for the boy when he returns home after school.  T-Lock is all worked up because the package contains both drugs and money, lots of each.  He extracts a promise from Kyle to tell no one, including his mother, by promising that all the money will be spent for Kyle’s mother’s benefit.  Given the difficulty Kyle has talking so that people can understand him, that’s not a difficult promise for him to keep.

The Grimstad police department has a new investigator, Cassie Dewell.  She recently quit her job in Helena, Montana to take this position, a job with a significant increase in pay and a seemingly much smarter and nicer chief of police than she had worked for previously.  But she’s surprised that Jon Kirkbride already has a specific investigation for her to pursue; he’s afraid that one of his officers is crooked and wants Cassie to help find the truth.

C. J. Box, author of the Joe Pickett mysteries, introduced Cassie in The Highway, the first novel in this new series.  She’s smart, tough, and anxious to make a new start for herself and her young son in Grimstad.  But there’s a lot on her plate, including her ambivalence about spying on her fellow officers.

Badlands is a totally engrossing thriller, with a captivating heroine, a great setting, and a realistic plot.  Another plus is the honesty and compassion that comes through when Box is writing about Kyle, his significant difficulties, and the perceptions that people have about him that are often wrong.  Cassie is the heroine of this book, Kyle its hero.

You can read more about C. J. Box at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads 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.