Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Introducing Sheriff Walt Longmire

This is the first book in Craig Johnson's long-running series featuring Walt Longmire, the middle-aged sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming. The books, in turn, would later inspire the television program that was named for the sheriff.

This book opens with the shooting death of a young man named Cody Pritchard. It's possible that Pritchard's death was the result of a hunting accident, but it soon appears that it was actually an act of deliberate homicide.

The list of suspects is unusually long. Two years earlier, Pritchard and three of his high school classmates had been tried on charges of sexually assaulting a mentally challenged Native American girl. The four were convicted but received only minimal punishment and a lot of local people, including the victim's family, are still hoping that justice will be served, one way or the other. It now appears that someone seeking revenge may have all four of the young perpetrators lined up in the sights of a Sharps .45-70 rifle.

For a sheriff's office that is small and short-handed, an investigation of this magnitude poses a serious challenge. And, as if he didn't have enough problems in his professional life, Walt's personal life is a total mess. He's been widowed for a number of years and is living in a partially-built home that he never got around to finishing after his wife died. His friends, especially Henry Standing Bear, the owner of the local saloon, are encouraging Walt to get on with his life, but he doesn't seem to have much interest in doing so. He'd rather just do his job, drink a few cans of Rainier beer and let it go at that.

In Longmire, Craig Johnson has created a character that obviously appeals to a large number of readers and television viewers. The Wyoming setting is beautifully constructed and there's a solid cast of supporting characters. The mystery itself is a good one, although I thought the solution came basically out of left field.

All that said, this is not the sort of book that normally appeals to me. The whole enterprise is just a bit too folksy for my taste, what with the aw-shucks sheriff who names his truck the Silver Bullet and the cast of eccentric townspeople who are just a bit too odd, strange and curious. As much as I can admire what Johnson has accomplished here, I prefer my crime fiction just a bit more hard-boiled, though obviously there are thousands of other readers for whom Longmire hits the mark perfectly.

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