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on June 7, 2009
Late last year, Craig Johnson and his Walt Longmire mysteries came to occupy a rarified space in my world -- a favorite author for whom you wait in anticipation of his next book, looking forward to the moment you get to crack it open and find out what your friends on the page are up to this time. Johnson's mysteries are well structured and compelling, not relying on gimmicks or tricks, but instead on fleshed out characters, snappy dialogue, close observation of human nature, and a vivid landscape that is just as important as any person in the book.

Longmire, the maybe-retiring-in-a-few-years sheriff of fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, isn't a supercop or a kick-butt guy like Lee Child's Jack Reacher. He's an older guy, a Vietnam vet, and a Wyoming native. He grew up on a ranch, is a widower with one daughter, and a strong sense of justice that is served well by his skills as a steady methodical cop. More than that, he's an interesting person, something of a renaissance man without feeling forced (as Reacher can at times). This is a good thing as the mysteries are all in first person so if we were bored with Walt, we'd have a problem and not much reason to keep reading.

While the Longmire mysteries are well stocked with eccentric characters, it's his two primary sidekicks -- Henry Standing Bear and Victoria "Vic" Moretti -- who stand out. The Bear, aka The Cheyenne Nation, is Walt's oldest and best friend, a fellow vet, and his guide in the Native American reservations and communities. Moretti, his detective, is a transplant from Philadelphia, an excellent cop, and perhaps one of the sexiest and foulest mouthed law enforcement characters in current fiction. In all three cases, the characters have grown and changed over the course of the books. One of my pet peeves with some mystery writers is that they often refuse to acknowledge the passing of time and the evolution of a character. I read series like this not simply for the mystery but to go on the journey with the characters, to see what happens to them and how they grow.

This past week, I got my hands on Johnson's newest book, "The Dark Horse", and it didn't disappoint. Told in alternating pieces -- what's happening now and what happened over the preceding days -- Johnson leads us through a fascinating murder mystery in which the prime suspect in a brutal murder is found with the gun, with gunpowder residue on her hands, and who confesses to the crime on multiple occasions. For reasons that become clear through the flashbacks, we learn why Walt has gone undercover in Absalom, WY, on the belief that the confessed murderess is actually innocent. The mystery is intriguing, the new characters in Absalom are quirky without being cartoonish, and, of course, Vic and the Bear are along for the ride.

While not as strong an entry as Johnson's debut , "The Cold Dish", I enjoyed "The Dark Horse" tremendously and it stacks up well against books two through four. None of the books are written to fit the bill of a "page turner" but that's OK. They aren't intended to be thrillers, though they do have their thrilling moments. Instead, they are a close look as the diverse community that Longmire inhabits and how he copes with the occasional violence through the lens of a man with a strong moral code, a compulsion to set right an injustice, and who has seen and done violence before, much to his regret. It's for that reason that I look forward to reading about Walt Longmire for many books to come.
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When I began blogging last June, one of the very first authors I raved about was Craig Johnson. Get ready to listen to more raves because my opinion of him is unchanged.

In this fifth book of the series, we see the Sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, working undercover as an insurance agent in the tiny, ill-tempered town of Absalom. Absalom resident Wade Barstad, well-known womanizer and jerk-about-town, set fire to his barn. The fire roasted alive his wife's horses, which didn't set too well with Mary. Mary Barstad waited till Wade went to bed. She then proceeded to put six bullets in his head and set fire to the house. When the fire department showed up, Mary confessed to killing her husband. But the sheriff in that county smells a rat, and he soon has Walt Longmire sniffing the very same eau de rongeur. Seeing as how most Absalom residents would just as soon shoot strangers as look at 'em, will Walt have enough time to figure out what really happened?

Although Johnson writes of his corner of Wyoming as if it's a character in and of itself, it's really the two-legged ones for whom you want to read this series. Each a rugged individualist, learning everyone's outlooks on life as well as their relationships with the other characters is the meat and potatoes of these books. The mystery is the huge wedge of lemon meringue pie that puts a satisfied PAID to the entire meal.

It's difficult to write a novel about the West and not have the landscape have its say. Just ask Hillerman or Bowen or Box...or Craig Johnson:

"I thought about how we tilled and cultivated the land, planted trees on it, fenced it, built houses on it, and did everything we could to hold off the eternity of distance-- anything to give the landscape some sort of human scale. No matter what we did to try and form the West, however, the West inevitably formed us instead."

Walt Longmire was raised by his mother to respect and help the young, the old and the infirm. He's the type of person who can stare at the wall around a pay phone and think

"People had written and scratched things so deeply that re-paintings had only heightened the sentiment. I wondered if Custer really wore Arrow shirts, if DD still loved NT, if the eleven kids that got left at the parking lot were still beating the Broncos twenty-four to three, or if 758-4331 was still a good time. I thought about the love, heartbreaks, and desperate passions that had been played out through the phone in my hand...."

No matter how he may try to dissemble, when the chips are down you want Walt Longmire guarding your back. The man who can wonder about DD and NT truly gives a damn.

The book is told in two alternating time frames: the present while Walt is undercover, and the two weeks leading to his arrival in Absalom. Although this had me chafing at the bit a few times, it did serve two purposes: reminding us why Walt thought Mary Barstad was important enough to risk his life for, and giving us doses of Walt's co-workers and friends who couldn't follow him into this investigation. This series isn't the Walt Longmire Show; the secondary characters are just as well-drawn and easy to get attached to as he is.

Although I still doubt the wisdom of having a character like Walt go undercover practically on his own home turf, I loved this book. In a nostalgic post a few days ago, I mentioned being horse crazy, which was a bit prophetic. The Dark Horse was drawing to a close. Walt had to save someone's life and the only transportation available to take him down off a high mesa and toward help was a magnificent black horse. I swear, if someone had interrupted me at that moment, I wouldn't have bothered with a gun or a baseball bat or a scream of rage. I would've let fly with one of my Spontaneous Combustion Looks-- guaranteed to flash fry the recipient down to his Tony Lamas in one-tenth of a second.

Craig Johnson turned back my clock. While my adult brain was being very well taken care of, I was also a child, sitting here with my eyes glued to the page, reading about a hero and a horse and a race against time. Not many writers are skilled enough to satisfy on so many levels. Johnson is one of the few.
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on June 4, 2009
Ever since "Cold Dish" and becoming acquainted with the characters of Absaroka County, I've looked forward to what can happen next in this little western community. Walt travels outside Durant this time going undercover (which isn't easy when so many peple know you) to investigate the death of Wade Barsad. Walt encounters some interesting characters in the town of Absalom including an old rancher and a young boy. I think this is the first time Mr. Johnson has included a child in his storyline and some how a child just always adds a lot of sentiment and humor which this author is so good at.

As usual when you start a Craig Johnson book, they are difficult to put down until the last page. The last hundred pages or so become more suspenseful and there is just no way you can quit until you finish the book. There are a couple surprises and twists and turns to keep you interested and coming back for more.

In this book, Walt has his usual conversations with Dog, his sometimes humorous interactions with his long time friend Henry Standing Bear, all of which adds to some great reading. I loved the sentiment between Walt and Benjamin and also Walt and the abused horse. This author has a knack for bringing a lot of different emotions into his books.

I enjoyed the book and think you will also. If you have read the previous 4 books in the series you will enjoy this one more as the author refers to some of the previous events and people several times but it is also a good stand alone book.

I'm already looking forward to Craig Johnson's next book which I imagine will be next May again. A long time to wait but always worth it.
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on October 31, 2015
"The Dark Horse" is probably Craig Johnson's most pared down plot of the first five books in the series, and yet it loses none of the art of the story. Johnson uses a converging, shifting timeline to send Longmire under cover to determine whether or not a confessed murder is really a murder at all. As has become the hallmark of the "combined media" Longmire, Johnson also peels back another layer of the Longmire mythos by treating readers to a quick visit to Longmire's child hood home. Another good story in the solid series.
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on December 12, 2015
I've only discovered the Longmire series this year and am thoroughly enjoying it....to the point of now reading one book after another. Johnson writes lyrically, has an excellent mix of diverse characters and adds a touch of mysticism from the Cheyenne Elders.

In book four, a Vietnamese character provides a platform for Walt to flashback to his service there. The activities of young Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear lend interesting insights to their present day characters. In this book five, Walt returns physically to the area where he was born and raised, to work "undercover" to solve a local mystery.

While Absaroca county is fictional, Johnson gets present day Wyoming just right. And now...I'm on to book 6.
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on June 27, 2014
The sixth in the Walt Longmire saga and pushing the rating stars toward a five in my mind. Not quite there yet, but closing in quickly. Walt is once again adding to his catalog of injuries, and still has a seemingly stalled love instinct, but solves crimes at a fast pace in this adventure. Even the junkyard dogs develop character that makes you want to take one home with you. Dog, his companion, serves a larger part in this book, and suffers for it, just like Walt. Dog though is unimpressed by it, and still devours a cheeseburger with enthusiasm. What I missed was the opportunities Walt was presented to open his relationship with Vic, and he failes to follow through. The consummation or destruction of this relationship must be in author Craig Johnson's mind for later. I'm reading the series in order, and have two to go, so I'm sure there is heat somewhere along this line in later books. I totally recommend the series, and equally recommend they be read IN ORDER!
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on July 30, 2015
This book broke with the usual formatting, jumping back and forth in a relatively short period of time. This didn't bother me in the slightest; I thought it was interesting to see Johnson tackle a different narrative style. Keeps the series interesting.

As for the plot itself... I figured out parts of the crime early because I have a health issue that helped me identify clues but I don't think this will affect the majority of readers.

Longmire the show is true to Longmire the book-series in the same way that Midsomer Murders is true to Caroline Graham's books: the show captures the essence of the characters but takes liberties with plots, which keeps both formats fresh for viewers. I've also mentioned that each new book in the series makes these deviations more apparent but this book was like a paused stop-watch; the threads that deviate fall by the wayside for this book - not ended, but not important...yet.

This book is mostly Walt, with his usual supporting cast of characters elsewhere, off doing other stuff and, to be frank, I missed them. But, since the plot-deviations between book and show involve on-going romantic threads, this book is a great example of why I prefer romances written by men and geared for male audiences. The romance isn't given preference over everything else going on in the story-world. Other stuff -crime- happens. The romance builds slow and steady over a long course of time and, in the end, helps both the characters and the relationships feel more real than the ones displayed in poorly-disguised bodice-rippers touted as westerns. The separation of Walt from the other characters felt like romance building for future books and that is something that will endear me to the series as a whole, when it's completed.
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on August 14, 2015
All the Absaroka County folks are back again to help Sheriff Walt Longmire solve the latest crime. Deputy Vic Moretti is feisty as ever wanting to engage Walt in a bit of romantic action. Although he introduces her as an Under-Sheriff — a clever double entendre by Author Johnson? — Walt has scruples about mixing pleasure with business. Henry Standing Bear appears about half way into the book as a boxing contestant but gives Walt plenty of help later. Besides trying to focus on his law-enforcement duties, Walt is worried about his daughter, Cady, who is back in Philadelphia and engaged to Vic’s brother Michael, an officer on the Philly police force.
Walt has a woman prisoner in his jail, Mary Barsad, who has confessed to killing her husband, Wade, after he’d set fire to their stable which destroyed six prize horses. Walt doesn’t believe that Mary actually did it and sets out as an undercover insurance agent to find out the truth. Walt’s journey takes him to all kind of places while meeting vastly different types of people. The exciting and tension-filled ending is not one you’d expect as Walt and a “dark horse” emerge from a harsh Wyoming winter evening to solve this complex mystery.
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on February 10, 2015
It started with the t.v. series, my love for Longmire. Then when I stumbled across the Walt Longmire Mysteries by Craig Johnson on Amazon, I just knew I had to get and read each and every one. This is my first and I love it. Longmire is truly the hero we all want to look up to. This story, although I really don't care for going back and forth in time frames, was so skillfully written that I never paid it any mind.
I found it exciting from the very first page and it never disappointed. Craig Johnson adds humor and suspense to his book and I cannot wait to read the other one I purchased and the many more that are waiting in my wish list. I hope my daughters' read this and check my wish list for my upcoming birthday! I plan on spending many, many hours in the company of Walt Longmire.
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on June 28, 2015
I confess, I have read several Longmire books, so the main characters are very strong in my mind. But here, Craig Johnson shows just how quickly he can develop a deep character, man or animal. To be sure, the motive for some of the actions is mysterious for a while, and some things are kind of telegraphed, but the action stays fast to the end ... indeed, some of the very last bits of action proceed at a pace that would win the Triple Crown.
And as usual, the hero comes through, with a little help from his friends. I love a happy ending.
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