It is not often a mystery contains a scene from slapstick comedy. The book opens with the Sheriff’s Department stopping an old Toronado car pulling 72 year old George “Geo” Stewart who is tied to the back of the car. How Geo came to be sliding behind the car is laugh out loud funny. It is a tribute to Johnson that he makes the sequence credible as well as humourous.
Sheriff Walt moves on to a missing body parts investigation. The tip of a thumb has been found in a cooler at the dump. Who has lost part of their thumb?
It is late winter in Wyoming. February has been a brutal month. The temperature many days has barely ascended above 0 F (about -15 C). When the sun is not shining it has been snowing. Actually it sounds like a nice February in Saskatchewan.
Geo, a tough wiry man, returns quickly to help run the family junkyard and community garbage dump. Geo prefers the title of Municipal Solid Waste Facility Engineer.
Doing an effective job of keeping intruders out of the facility are a pair of huge mutt wolf-dogs, Butch and Sundance. As always Walt is accompanied by his big dog, Dog.
There is a confrontation at the facility between the future, Ozzie Dobbs a developer of multi-million dollar properties, and the present, the ornery Geo, which returns Geo briefly to the hospital.
When Geo subsequently turns up dead during a vicious storm Sheriff Walt leads the investigation which takes the Department down unexpected paths.
Personally, Walt is feeling the cumulative effects of a series of injuries sustained in the line of duty. He is forced into a medical examination. It was refreshing to read about a tough guy wearing down. Many series there does not seem to be any long term effects from serious injury.
Emotionally Walt has grappled with the risks of the job and come to accept them. Deputy, Santiago Saizarbitoria, has physically recovered from his bullet wound but is suffering from “bullet fever”. He has lost the spirit to be a police officer. Walt desperately wants to keep him a member of the Department.
The plot is less tied to Wyoming than earlier books in the series. As always the weather has a prominent role.
The characters are Wyoming. All prize independence. They are at home in the vast spaces of the state. While they are not as charming as Louise Penny’s Three Pines, Quebec I have come to love Durant and Absaroka County. They are a real community. The dialogue is witty and the story engaging. Excellent. (Aug. 8/11)