“J” is for As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson – I was glad to see Sheriff Walt Longmire back to solving a crime in As the Crow Flies. In the previous book Hell is Empty he had been on a single minded mountain quest in mid-winter to capture escaped criminals. Still, As the Crow Flies is a departure from earlier mysteries in the series set in Absaroka County. Sheriff Walt is caught in up murder on the reserve of the Northern Cheyenne tribe.
This post will be my entry for the letter “J” in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme being hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise.
Initially Walt is out on the reserve with his good friend, Henry Standing Bear, because a problem has developed with regard to the location on the reserve booked for the wedding of his daughter, Cady, to her Philadelphia fiancée.
The tribe’s Dull Knife College has now scheduled a language immersion event for the same time. Negotiations with Chief Lonnie Little Bird falter when he advises Walt and Henry that the decision actually rests with the College librarian who is his sister, Arbutis.
Chief Lonnie says he will not mess with her. He describes Arbutis as afflicted with Indian Alzheimer’s:
That’s where you forget everything except the grudges.
Walt and Henry flinch at taking on the formidable Arbutis. They are caught between two very strong willed women.
Before they can decide how to tackle Arbutis they are stopped by the new Tribal Police Chief, Lolo Long. She is unhappy with the state of Henry’s ancient truck, Rezdawg, and his casual regard for traffic laws.
While she is definitely unimpressed by Walt, she creates a strong impression on him:
She had high wide cheekbones and a strong jaw that balanced the features framed in the blue-black hair that was braided to her elbows. Late twenties, she was wearing black jeans, a Tribal Police Uniform shirt, black ropers, and a matching gun belt with a very large caliber Smith & Wesson N-frame revolver banging against her hip.
She looked like one of those ultimate warriors who can step out on the sidewalk and run a marathon at the drop of a war bonnet.
Her aggressive manner and strict enforcement of all laws worry Walt. She is too officious and bound to create resentment that will inevitably turn violent. She is still deeply affected by her service with the American army in Iraq.
Her view of Walt softens slightly when a young Indian woman dies and the inquiry into her death becomes a murder investigation. Walt helps her fend off the FBI’s swift attempt to take over the investigation. She realizes she is beyond her experience in dealing with murder.
While Walt is helping Lolo he is still trying to organize the wedding with Henry. The big powerful men are ill-equipped to be wedding planners.
The murder investigation proceeds on the reservation. The story provides the best look at a contemporary Western American Indian reservation since I read one of Tony Hillerman’s books featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.
Life is hard on the reservation. Most of the people are very poor. Johnson does not dwell on their problems but lets those issues appear through describing their lives.
As does Stan Jones he captures the unique humour of indigenous North Americans. They have a clever sardonic manner.
Herbert His Good Horse, reserve radio morning personality, has developed a signature phrase known to all:
Stay calm, have courage and wait for the signs.
It is a mystery in which the murder and the investigation and the solution are deeply connected to the reservation and its people. As the Crow Flies fits the setting. While I raced through Hell is Empty I prefer As the Crow Flies. I have no reservations, no Indian irony intended, about this book. It is a worthy addition to the series. (June 2/13)
****My connection to the book comes from my legal representation of Saskatchewan Indian First Nations on land claims issues going back to the 19th Century. I have visited reserves and learned of their history as Walt has been taught the story of the Cheyenne.