Day 364: Hell Is Empty

Cover for Hell Is EmptyThis Walt Longmire novel is more like an adventure story than a mystery.

Walt and his deputy Sancho are transporting prisoners to a rendezvous with other county sheriffs and FBI agents. One of the prisoners, a sociopath named Reynaud Shade, has confessed to murdering a boy and burying him in the Bighorn Mountains. During this trip he is supposed to take the feds to the body.

After Walt drops off his prisoners and leaves the meeting, he learns that the prisoners have escaped with the help of accomplices. Finding one sheriff badly injured and a federal officer dead, Walt sends Sancho off for help and goes alone after the convicts and their two hostages into the Bighorn Mountains during a snowstorm.

This Longmire novel is notable for the mysticism that occasionally appears in the books. In this case, Walt again runs into the troubled Vietnam vet Virgil White Buffalo, who assists him in an unusual way.

The Longmire novels are not just whodunnits, but true ensemble pieces that further develop Longmire and the regular characters with each entry in the series. Wyoming is a character, too, and in this case, the mountains during a massive snowstorm make for a grueling environment.

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Day 352: Junkyard Dogs

Cover for Junkyard DogsI read this novel completely out of order with the others, but then I’ve been reviewing them out of order, too, so I guess that’s irrelevant.

First, old George Stewart, who owns the junkyard in Durant, Wyoming, is dragged behind a Toronado by his granddaughter. Then he is attacked by his neighbor. When Walt finds him in an attempt to investigate the first incident, he is dead, but not from these attacks. Someone has shot him.

Perhaps George’s death has to do with a new housing development next to the junkyard. The developer would like to remove the junkyard from the immediate vicinity of the homes he is building.

In the meantime, Walt is using the investigation of a severed thumb to try to keep his deputy, Santiago Saizarbitoria, who is considering quitting after being shot in the last book. Although Walt already knows that someone has claimed the thumb, he wants to keep Saizarbitoria busy and engaged in the hopes that he will stay.

Walt is also dealing with an eye injury and uncomfortable feelings about his daughter’s upcoming marriage to the brother of his other deputy, Victoria Moretti.

As I have said before, I think Craig Johnson is a great storyteller, and I love the setting of these modern-day western novels. To Junkyard Dogs, Johnson adds a touch of an offbeat sense of humor.

Day 332: A Serpent’s Tooth

Cover for A Serpent's ToothHaving caught up with author Craig Johnson in the Walt Longmire series, I was waiting with interest for this next book, which just came out.

Walt is attending a funeral when a batty old lady begins telling him about the angel who lives in her house and does chores for her while she’s out. At first inclined to dismiss what she is saying, Walt stops to listen and decides to go out to her house. There he finds a teenage boy fixing the plumbing. The boy bolts and Walt finds evidence that he has been living in the spring house.

Once Walt is able to locate the boy, he finds out he is Cord Lynear, a fifteen-year-old castoff of a fundamentalist Mormon group called the Apostolic Church of the Lamb of God that has a compound in the county and another one in South Dakota. In his attempts to find Cord’s home, Walt learns that a woman named Sarah Tisdale was looking for the boy at a sheriff’s office in South Dakota and that several men arrived and took the woman away. Walt comes to believe that this woman is one who has been missing for seventeen years, and so his focus changes to finding out what happened to her. The Mormons, however, disclaim all knowledge of her.

The more he looks into it, the more Walt feels that something is going on in their compound, and not anything legal. He is further bemused by the arrival of an old man who states he is Cord’s bodyguard and claims to be Orrin Porter Rockwell, a Mormon hero who would be 200 years old, were he still alive.

Walt is also sensing undercurrents in his relationship with his volatile lover and undersheriff, Vic Moretti. She has stated a desire to go to the homecoming game with him wearing a corsage in the school colors–a request that Walt finds unusual, to say the least. All the activity is preventing him from discussing it with her, however.

This novel is certainly a worthy entry to the series, packed as it is with puzzles, intrigue, and action. My only very slight critique is that some early references in the book made it easy for me to guess what all the skullduggery–that is, the illegal enterprise–was about.

Day 321: The Dark Horse

Cover for The Dark HorseSheriff Walt Longmire goes undercover in this exciting entry to the series. Mary Marsad has been sent to the Absaroka County jail after confessing to shooting her husband, Wade, after he burned down the couple’s barn with Mary’s horses in it. Not only has Mary confessed, she was found with the murder weapon and has gunshot residue on her hands.

Even though the case is out of his jurisdiction, Walt feels that Mary may be innocent and has been asked to look into the case by the sheriff of the other county. Walt goes to the town of Absalom posing as an insurance agent to see if he can figure out what happened. He discovers that Absalom holds many secrets, including motives for other people to want Wade Marsad dead.

This novel takes place during two different time frames, while Walt is undercover and two weeks beforehand, showing the reasons why Walt thinks Mary is innocent and why he doesn’t take his friends with him.

As usual, the recurring characters from this series have their places in the story, and we are always pleased to encounter Walt’s best friend, Henry Standing Bear, and his foul-mouthed deputy Victoria Moretti, among others. Johnson is a capable writer who creates convincing characters and vividly evokes the rugged landscape of Wyoming.

Day 298: Another Man’s Moccasins

Cover for Another Man's MoccasinsThis Walt Longmire mystery interleaves the present-time story with flashbacks to Longmire’s experiences during the Vietnam War. I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy this development, but the novel turned out to be very good, as the two stories are linked.

Walt is helping his daughter Cady recover from her experiences in Philadelphia (detailed in the previous book) when he is called out to the body of a young woman found along a county highway. Walt immediately recognizes the woman as Vietnamese. Next to the body is a huge Crow Indian, who runs away from Walt. In chasing him down, Walt discovers that he has been living in a culvert. When Walt takes him into custody, he won’t speak.

The discovery of the Vietnamese girl triggers memories of Walt’s first homicide investigation as a marine in Vietnam. The girl’s identification shows she is named Ho Thi Paquet, but in among her possessions, Walt find the picture of another woman who resembles someone he knew in Vietnam. With the help of his friend Henry Standing Bear, Walt finds out that the girl is connected with a large human trafficking ring in Los Angeles.

Walt decides that the Crow, identified as a mentally ill Vietnam vet named Virgil White Buffalo, probably didn’t kill Ho. He also doesn’t think it is a coincidence that a Vietnamese “tourist” has appeared, staying in a motel in Absaroka County.

As I have said before, I really enjoy this series. I enjoy the sense that the landscape of Wyoming is as much of a character as the people in the novels, and I like the recurring characters, who keep developing new dimensions.

Day 246: Kindness Goes Unpunished

Cover for Kindness Goes UnpunishedHere it is, the first review of my second year of blogging. I just had to say that. Now, on to the review.

As much as I enjoy Craig Johnson’s series about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, I find that I’ve been neglecting him and so am way behind in reviewing the series. One thing I admire most about this series is the sense of place–how Wyoming is depicted so clearly it is almost a character. Unfortunately, Kindness Goes Unpunished takes place in Philadelphia, so we miss that here, but the book is still action packed and lots of fun to read.

Sheriff Longmire and his best friend Henry Standing Bear travel to Philadelphia. Henry is setting up a collection of photos at a museum in preparation for giving a lecture, and Walt is visiting his daughter Cady, who works there as a lawyer.

Before Walt even gets a chance to see Cady, she is found at the bottom of some steps in a coma. Witness testimony seems to indicate that she was pushed down the stairs by her boyfriend, who turns out to have a drug habit. Shortly thereafter, however, the boyfriend is shoved off a bridge.

Philly cops wonder if Walt is responsible for the boyfriend’s death. Walt is torn between worry about Cady and his impulse to track down the killer, so Walt’s lippy deputy, Victoria Moretti, gets on a plane from Wyoming. It helps that she is a Philadelphia native and has relatives in the police force. Walt makes a deal with the Philly police to assist them in their investigation. (No, Brits, that doesn’t mean the same thing here as it does in the U.K.) We readers also get to meet the entire Moretti clan, including Victoria’s mother, who seems inclined to flirt with Walt.

Although I missed the Wyoming setting, Johnson effectively employs the fish-out-of-water technique to produce a novel that is as good as ever.

Day 229: Death Without Company

Cover for Death Without CompanyLucius Connally, the ex-sheriff of Absaroka County and Walt Longmire’s old boss, asks Walt to look into the death of an old Basque woman named Mari in an assisted-living home. Before he even finds out she was poisoned, Walt discovers she used to be Lucius’s wife. Her brute of a second husband, who left the family in the 50’s, does not respond to phone calls.

In investigating the crime, Walt is brought into the life of the Basque sheepherders. He finds himself chasing a mysterious large man and rescues the old woman’s granddaughter after she is attacked in her own bakery.

With a backdrop of the stunning Wyoming vistas and the usual recurring characters, the Longmire series continues to be entertaining.