AN OBVIOUS FACT by CRAIG JOHNSON (2016; Penguin; 318pp) ***
Blurb: In the midst of the largest motorcycle rally in the world, a young biker is run off the road and ends up in critical condition. When Sheriff Walt Longmire and his good friend Henry Standing Bear are called to Hulett, Wyoming—the nearest town to America’s first national monument, Devils Tower—to investigate, things start getting complicated. As competing biker gangs; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; a military-grade vehicle donated to the tiny local police force by a wealthy entrepreneur; and Lola, the real-life femme fatale and namesake for Henry’s ’59 Thunderbird (and, by extension, Walt’s granddaughter) come into play, it rapidly becomes clear that there is more to get to the bottom of at this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally than a bike accident. After all, in the words of Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Adventures of Sherlock Holmes the Bear won’t stop quoting, ”There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
The twelfth novel in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series is an entertaining read, but shows signs of complacency setting in. Johnson writes engaging characters and witty dialogue, but there is something a little blase about the way they go about their business in this story. The humour is turned up and the thrills turned down and everything feels a little comfortable. The mystery itself isn’t as engaging as the plots in earlier books either. and the whole thing is wrapped up rather conveniently in the epilogue. That said I was never bored and this is probably the fastest and easiest read in the series – the novellas and short stories excepted – just not very challenging. Hopefully, this is not the beginning of a downward turn and The thirteenth novel, The Western Star, will be a return to form.
The Walt Longmire Series:
The Cold Dish (2004) ****
Death Without Company (2006) ****
Kindness Goes Unpunished (2007) ****
Another Man’s Moccasins (2009) ****
The Dark Horse (2010) ****
Junkyard Dogs (2010) *****
Hell is Empty (2011) ****
As the Crow Flies (2012) ****
A Serpent’s Tooth (2013) ****
Spirit of Steamboat (2013 – novella) ****
Any Other Name (2014) ****½
Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories (2014 – short story collection) ****
Dry Bones (2015) ****
The Highwayman (2016 – novella) ***½
An Obvious Fact (2016) ***
The Western Star (2017)
Longmire – Season 6 Finale (TV) (2017; USA; Colour; 72m) **** pr. Brad Davis, Bryan J. Raber; d. Christopher Chulack; w. Hunt Baldwin; ph. Todd Dos Reis; m. David Shephard. Cast: Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips, Cassidy Freeman, Adam Bartley, A Martinez, Zahn McClarnon, Louanne Stephens, Barry Sloane, Graham Greene. Nighthorse’s problems at the casino escalate. Walt gets an unexpected visitor that helps him with is search for Malachi. Nighthorse is betrayed. An inevitable confrontation leads to lives changed. Ferg tries to mend his relationship with Meg. A long awaited relationship blooms. Satisfying and crowd-pleasing finale to what has been a great modern western series that survived being axed by the network (A&E) after three seasons to see three more with Netflix thanks to a fan campaign. This last season, and this episode in particular, seems to have been written to provide a fan-friendly climax and some of the elements felt a little rushed in the wrap-up. But it is rare these days that a series gets the opportunity to do right by its characters and its audience. No plot strand is left loose and there are many poignant moments. In truth these days, with so many channels and programmers, it is very difficult to keep a series fresh, but this one never outstayed its welcome. Based on the excellent Walt Longmire mysteries written by Craig Johnson. 
THE HIGHWAYMAN by CRAIG JOHNSON (2016, Viking, 194pp) ∗∗∗½
Blurb: When Wyoming highway patrolman Rosey Wayman is transferred to the beautiful and imposing landscape of the Wind River Canyon, an area the troopers refer to as no-man’s-land because of the lack of radio communication, she starts receiving officer needs assistance calls. The problem? They’re coming from Bobby Womack, a legendary Arapaho patrolman who met a fiery death in the canyon almost a half-century ago. With an investigation that spans this world and the next, Sheriff Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear take on a case that pits them against a legend: The Highwayman.
Craig Johnson continues his output of Sheriff Walt Longmire mysteries – which has now stretched to twelve novels, two novellas and a collection of short stories – with this enjoyable novella. The “ghost story” elements give the story an sense of fun and mystery – although the mystery itself is straight-forward and doesn’t really produce any surprises and the scenario is never comedic. This is more about Johnson having fun with his characters with Walt supported by his long-time friend Henry Standing Bear. Their interplay is as witty and affectionate as ever. Whilst the book is never much more than a mild diversion until the next novel, An Obvious Fact published later the same year, it will satisfy fans of Johnson’s writing and characters.
DRY BONES by CRAIG JOHNSON (2015, Penguin, 306pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: When Jen, the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found surfaces in Sherriff Walt Longmire’s jurisdiction, it appears to be a windfall for the High Plains Dinosaur Museum—until Danny Lone Elk, the Cheyenne rancher on whose property the remains were discovered, turns up dead, floating face down in a turtle pond. With millions of dollars at stake, a number of groups step forward to claim her, including Danny’s family, the tribe, and the federal government. As Wyoming’s Acting Deputy Attorney and a cadre of FBI officers descend on the town, Walt is determined to find out who would benefit from Danny’s death, enlisting old friends Lucian Connolly and Omar Rhoades, along with Dog and best friend Henry Standing Bear, to trawl the vast Lone Elk ranch looking for answers to a sixty-five million year old cold case that’s heating up fast.
Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire mysteries, set in a fictional modern day Wyoming county, remain wonderfully entertaining. The main pleasure is not derived from the mysteries themselves, which although often quirky are nothing out of the ordinary, but in the rich cast of characters Johnson uses to populate his stories and their interaction with each other. Despite being written in the first person each character has depth, which is conveyed through Longmire’s wry and witty observation.
Although Dry Bones is the 11th novel in the series – as well as two novellas and a collection of short stories – Johnson shows no sign of tiring of his principal cast. The story itself mixes mystery, greed, mysticism and tragedy. The themes are familiar but it feels like returning to, and never tiring of, your favourite holiday destination.
Johnson’s writing has become more efficient as the series has progressed and he has lost none of his flair for dialogue. In Dry Bones he deftly mixes the tragic elements of the story with a sense of optimism and a warm feel good factor. I look forward greatly to my next vacation to Absaroka County.
WAIT FOR SIGNS by CRAIG JOHNSON (2014, Viking/Penguin, 183pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Wait for Signs gives Longmire fans a chance to own these beloved stories—and one that was published for the first time in the Viking edition—in a single volume. With glimpses of Walt’s past from the incident in “Ministerial Aid,” when the sheriff is mistaken for a deity, to the hilarious “Messenger,” where the majority of the action takes place in a Porta-Potty, Wait for Signs is a necessary addition to any Longmire fan’s shelf and a wonderful way to introduce new readers to the fictional world of Absaroka County, Wyoming.
This collection of short stories is a wonderful sampler into the life of Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire. The stories were initially issued as an annual holiday gift to fans and have now been collected into this book. There are twelve in all and they range from 10 to 30 pages in length. The two stand-outs – primarily because they embody the wry and sometimes laugh-out-loud humour Johnson has peppered his novels with – are “Ministerial Aid” and “Messenger”. The former sees a desperate woman, waiting on the resurrection of the Messiah, mistake a bath-robed and unshaven Walt for the same. The latter sees Walt, his deputy Victoria Moretti and his friend Henry Standing Bear trapped in a portable toilet with a hungry bear outside and a frightened owl inside.
Johnson’s writing is as readable as ever and his skill at creating strong and likeable characters and witty dialogue are well in evidence. This is a great stop gap whilst we wait for the next novel in the series (DRY BONES, the eleventh in the series, is due out in paperback in April 2016). The Longmire series is amongst the best mystery novels out there and I recommend any curious reader to start at the beginning with THE COLD DISH (2004).
About the author: Craig Johnson is the New York Times best-selling author of eleven novels in the Walt Longmire mystery series, which has garnered popular and critical acclaim. Among other awards, THE COLD DISH was a Dilys Award finalist; THE DARK HORSE, the fifth in the series, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year; JUNKYARD DOGS won the Watson Award for a mystery novel with the best sidekick, and HELL IS EMPTY, selected by Library Journal as the Best Mystery of the Year. The series is the basis for the hit TV drama Longmire, shown on TCM in the UK and starring Robert Taylor, Lou Diamond Phillips and Katee Sackhoff. Craig Johnson lives in Ucross, Wyoming, population twenty-five.
ANY OTHER NAME by CRAIG JOHNSON (2014, Penguin, Paperback, 320pp) ∗∗∗∗½
Blurb: Sheriff Walt Longmire is sinking into a high-plains winter discontent when his former boss, Lucian Connally, asks him to take on a mercy case outside his jurisdiction. Detective Gerald Holman of neighbouring Campbell County is dead, and Lucian wants to know what drove his old friend, a by-the-book lawman with a wife and daughter, to take his own life. With the clock ticking on the birth of Walt’s first grandchild in Philadelphia, he enlists the help of undersheriff Vic Moretti, Henry Standing Bear, and Gillette policeman Corbin Dougherty and, looking for answers, reopens Holman’s last case. Before his mysterious death, Detective Holman was elbow-deep in a cold case involving three local women who’d gone missing with nothing to connect the disappearances–or so it seemed. The detective’s family and the Campbell County sheriff’s office beg Walt to drop the case. An open-and-shut suicide they say. But there’s a blood trail too hot to ignore, and it’s leading Walt in circles: from a casino in Deadwood, to a mysterious lodge in the snowy Black Hills of South Dakota, to a band of international hit men, to a shady strip club, and back again to the Campbell County sheriff’s office. Digging deeper, Walt will uncover a secret so dark it threatens to claim other lives before the sheriff can serve justice–Wyoming style.
Craig Johnson continues to produce novels of extremely high standard with his Longmire series, of which this is the tenth (eleventh if you count his novella Spirit of the Steamboat). Johnson has such a command of his characters and location that reading a new book in the series transports you immediately back to his Wyoming setting. The books are written in first person through the voice of Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire and his observations are delivered with great wit. The dialogue is priceless with the camaraderie between the leads (Walt’s best friend, Henry Standing Bear, his under-sheriff Victoria Morettl and former boss, the crotchety and highly entertaining Lucian Connolly) beautifully portrayed.
The case here centres around an investigator’s suicide and the link it has to three missing girls. The plot is deftly played out and builds in suspense and excitement through to its race against time climax – including the sub-plot of Walt’s pregnant lawyer daughter, Cady, in a Philadephia hospital and about to give birth demanding his presence. The Longmire books are always a pure joy from start to finish and this is no exception. If you are looking to pick one up start at the beginning with The Cold Dish and work your way through what is one of the most consistently entertaining series of books I’ve ever read.
It’s also worth catching the Longmire TV series based on the books, which use the main characters but follow a different story arc.
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.