SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT by CRAIG JOHNSON (2013, Penguin, Paperback, 146pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Sheriff Walt Longmire is in his office reading A Christmas Carol when he is interrupted by a ghost of Christmas past: a young woman with a hairline scar and more than a few questions about his predecessor, Lucian Connally. Walt’s on his own this Christmas Eve, so he agrees to help her.
At the Durant Home for Assisted Living, Lucian is several tumblers into his Pappy Van Winkle’s and swears he’s never clapped eyes on the woman before. Disappointed, she whispers “Steamboat” and begins a story that takes them all back to Christmas Eve 1988—a story that will thrill and delight the best-selling series’ devoted fans.
Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series of novels has gathered a loyal following over the years and spawned a successful TV series. Johnson initially intended this novella to be one of his seasonal short stories offered up free to his fans. The end result was something of more substantial length, but remains a fast-paced and thrilling read. Johnson has a splendid ear for banter driven dialogue and builds strong characters on the back of it.
There is no mystery in this tale, it is based around the selflessness of the main protagonists in trying to save the life of an infant (victim of a car crash) some 25 years earlier. The story goes through a series of setbacks and solutions as Walt and the old-sheriff Lucian, helped by Doc Isaac Bloomfield and co-pilot Julie Luehrman, use an old WWII bomber to fly their patient through a snowstorm to Denver. The story is also framed around references to Dickens’ Christmas Carol and is designed as a modern parable.
Witty dialogue and likeable characters who you want to spend more time with are the key to Johnson’s success. If you’ve not read any of the Longmire books I recommend you start straight away at the beginning (The Cold Dish) and you’ll be drawn into one of the very best series around.