In the early books of the series Walt solved mysteries with a mix of intelligence, diligence and occasional violence. His interactions with the Cheyenne people of Wyoming were important parts of the stories.
In the opening book, The Cold Dish, I summed up:
The author captures the sense of rural America, the feel of the weather and the language of the people. Absoroka County is alive in the same way Louise Penny created Three Pines, Quebec.
In Death Without Company Walt explores the death of a Basque woman residing in the same seniors home as former sheriff, Lucian Connelly. The investigation requires Walt to gain an understanding of Basque life in Wyoming and the methane gas industry. I did say the solution is effectively determined by the bodies left standing at the end.
Kindness Goes Unpunished, the third book, sees Walt and Henry Standing Bear in Philadelphia where his daughter, Cady, is recovering from a major head injury. It involves an intriguing character, a “white” Indian who is a white man that adopted Indian ways while in prison. I said:
The investigation involving small notes with Indian themes reminds me of the cleverness of Michael Connelly and the early Laurie R. King books. The solution brings
to Wyoming brilliantly. Philadelphia
In Another Man’s Moccasins Walt is dealing with the death of a Vietnamese woman. The investigation flashes him back to his time as a soldier in Vietnam. It delves into his spiritual side:
Moving back and forth in time Longmire also occasionally finds himself in the spirit world. Ruby, his long time administrative assistant, says he cares more about the dead than the living
While I enjoyed The Black Horse it was the first book in the series that made me feel alittle uncomfortable. Walt goes on a solo quest to a neighbouring county and goes undercover posing as an insurance investigator. It was not really plausible he would be able to be unknown so close to his home county.
In Junkyard Dogs I was impressed that Walt was actually impacted by cumulative physical injuries and forced to go through a physical examination. He was not an impervious hero.
Hell is Empty is not an investigation. It is a thriller chase with mystical elements. I accepted it as Johnson not merely following a formula.
As the Crow Flies reassured me Johnson was returning to solid mysteries with Walt investigating a murder on the Cheyenne reservation. I said:
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.
It was A Serpent’s Tooth that really made me feel uneasy about the future of the series. Walt is investigating a death related to a polygamous Mormon community. I concluded:
However, Sheriff Walt is in danger of becoming the stereotype of the lone American lawman riding, now driving, into bloody confrontations with the bad guys. In earlier books the Sheriff was more balanced. His keen intelligence is little utilized in this book as he barges around from fight to fight. It reminds me of the later Spenser mysteries when violence became the first option to solving issues.
Any Other Name follows the path of A Serpent’s Tooth rather than earlier books. Walt is on a solo quest using violence readily.
Not yet fully recovered from the injuries he suffered in A Serpent’s Tooth he is injured repeatedly in Any Other Name. After awakening in a hospital bed he even pulls out his IV and rushes to the chase. There is little recognition that he is a man at least 60 years old.
Three of the last four books in the series have seen Walt outside Absoroka County and the last two books have little interaction with the Cheyenne people. It is time for Walt to attend to crime in Absoroka but at the end of Any Other Name he was headed to Philadelphia.
More important, I hope the trend of violence to solve the mystery and individual ventures in law enforcement do not continue in the series. They are certainly less complex to write but risk Walt becoming an average fictional hero. It is the trend I found disconcerting with the later Elvis Cole books by Robert Crais. Walt is not Hollywood. I do not want to see Walt being a modern Lone Ranger.
****Johnson, Craig – (2007) - The Cold Dish; (Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - Death Without Company; (2008) - Kindness Goes Unpunished (Third Best Fiction of 2008); (2009) - Another Man’s Moccasins; (2011) - The Dark Horse; (2011) - Junkyard Dogs; (2012) - Hell is Empty; (2013) As the Crow Flies; (2013) - Longmire T.V. Series; (2014) - A Serpent's Tooth; (2015) - Radio in Indigenous Mystery Series; (2015) - Any Other Day; Hardcover