The Western Star by Craig Johnson - Sheriff Walt Longmire reflects on 1972 when he was a Deputy Sheriff joining Sheriff Lucian Connelly and the other 23 sheriffs of the state on their annual Wyoming Sheriffs Association trip across the state on a train pulled by the legendary steam locomotive, The Western Star.
Walt is in turmoil. He is newly married, newly a Deputy and Martha is newly pregnant. She is angry with him and has returned her wedding ring. He is not sure he wants to be a lawman.
On the train Walt impresses the Sheriffs with his skill at the piano playing classical, jazz and pop music and occasionally improvising. It has been a long time in the series since Walt has played the piano. Too many recent books in the series have been mired in violence.
And Walt is doing some reading upon the train, an Agatha Christie novel!
Marv Leeland, the one armed President of the Association. talks to Walt about observing the Sheriffs during the trip for Leeland thinks a cabal of Sheriffs might be vigilantes.
When a Sheriff is murdered there are 23 suspect Sheriffs and 1 suspect Deputy.
Martha becomes an actual character who called her husband, Walter, and wanted him to get a master’s degree and teach university. Walter declines. Lucian, setting aside his cantankerous facade, tells her Walt has the potential to be a fine lawman. Martha is not interested.
In current time Walt, Lucian and Vic have gone to Cheyenne to see Cady and Lola, Walt’s daughter and granddaughter.
He is also there to oppose the parole application of an unnamed criminal convicted of murder decades earlier. After arriving he learns the prisoner is applying for compassionate release because of terminal or debilitating chronic illness. Visiting him in the hospital in the middle of the night Walt sees he is unconscious.
The Governor, Wally, and his wife, Carol, want him released.
Hale and hearty or about to die from pancreatic cancer makes no difference to Walt. A life sentence with no parole means dying in prison. He will not agree to even a day of freedom.
The stories gradually come together.
Initially, I found the earlier story more compelling but they were equally interesting by the end.
It has been a long time since I have read a book by a contemporary author set in a train where the suspects are all aboard. Anne Holt’s book, 1222, involves train passengers but they have been taken off the train to a hotel after the train is damaged in an accident.
The Western Star has the clever comments that marked early Longmire books. When Walt says “Nowhere and nothing” to where he is going and what he is doing Lucian replies:
“Well, there ain’t no hurry about nowhere and nothing - they’re always out there waitin’.”
The endings were disappointment. One being bizarre and the other implausible.
Overall it is a very good book and finally a return to the Walt Longmire who is as intelligent as he is big and strong. The plot flows swiftly.