Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Land of the Wolves - Craig Johnson

Land of Wolves is the fifteenth novel in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, a series that began in 2004 with The Cold Dish. Johnson has treated Longmire fans pretty well over the years by publishing a new novel every year since that first one introduced the character. But it gets even better for fans, because Johnson published Longmire novellas in 2013 and 2016, and short stories or short story collections in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016. That’s a whole lot of Walt Longmire material in just fifteen years – and that’s not even to mention the very popular Netflix multi-season series based on the Longmire books and characters.

The Land of Wolves sees Longmire still trying to recover from the almost-fatal injuries he sustained in Mexico in the previous book, Depth of Winter. The sheriff is still struggling with some painful physical wounds, but more disturbingly to Longmire (and to his fans), is how negatively the near-death experience has affected his mental state. For the moment at least, Longmire is questioning his future and is not sure that he wants to be the sheriff of Absaroka County much longer.

But the bad guys are not going to sit around and wait for Longmire to recover.

Soon after being called to the scene of what appears to be the suicidal hanging of a sheep herder, Longmire begins to doubt that the man really killed himself. His investigation soon leads him back to one of the oldest families in the county, a family headed up by a Basque grandfather whose own father once used a shotgun to blow off the leg of Longmire’s predecessor in the sheriff’s department. As Longmire keeps pulling on lose threads, things get so complicated that the ailing sheriff starts to wonder if everyone he speaks with is part of some kind of vast conspiracy to keep the truth from him forever.

The title of this one comes from the lone wolf who seems always to be in the shadows wherever Longmire’s investigation takes him in the more remote parts of Absaroka County, Wyoming. The graying wolf becomes kind of a stand-in for graying Walt Longmire, a man who knows he’s past his prime and wondering how much longer he will be physically capable of doing the job he once loved so much.

Craig Johnson
Longmire fans were, I think, looking forward to Longmire coming home to Wyoming for his next case. The Mexican setting for Depth of Winter was interesting, and the plot was a real thriller, but it took Longmire out of his element and didn’t leave much room for the rest of the revolving cast of characters to have much interaction with him. Fans will be somewhat disappointed to learn that even though Land of Wolves takes place entirely within Longmire’s home county, only Ruby and Vic Moretti, of all the secondary characters, have much of a presence in the novel. There is almost no Henry Standing Bear at all, Lucian Connally is around only briefly, and Longmire’s daughter, Cady, only communicates with her father via a terse email or two. Longmire is hurting and confused, and it shows in his relationships.

Craig Johnson is guilty of the cardinal sin of “telling – not showing – what happened when it comes time for him to wrap up The Land of Wolves, something that never fails to annoy me as a reader. And, to make it even worse, Johnson has Longmire do all of his “telling” to the one deputy who has been close to him during most of the murder investigation, Vic Moretti. That Moretti is also Longmire’s love interest in the series, makes it even harder to believe that she would not have already been aware of most of what Longmire reveals to her.

Bottom Line: It’s always good to spend some time in Wyoming with Walt Longmire and the crew, but this one is a bit of a disappointment because not all of my old Wyoming friends showed up for our annual reunion. Here’s hoping that by the next book, Walt is more his old self and that the secondary characters all make the cut. And, please, enough with the passive, conversational-recap endings.

9 comments:

  1. Longmire has been a favorite since the first book, but I will definitely miss Henry's presence. How could Craig Johnson give Henry Standing Bear less time than he deserves?

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    1. If I recall correctly, Henry was only in the book in two or three brief scenes during which Walt visited him in the bar. That's way too little exposure for such a great character who won't get another shot at new life for a whole year.

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  2. An excellent review. I haven't read any of them. I watched some of the TV shows, but for some reason, I didn't care for them.

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    1. Thanks, Nan.

      I'm assuming that you started the Netflix series at the beginning. Surprisingly, the first ones are pretty closely based on Johnson's earliest Longmire books but they fall the flattest. It was only after the books were pretty much exhausted that the series really took off, and by the end of the whole series I was really sorry to see it end. The shows did a great job of keeping the literary characters honest, but at the same time, letting them expand into whole new people. It was fun.

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  3. I've read four or five Longmire books but none for quite some time now. I enjoyed them very much so am not sure why I sort of ground to a halt with them. I tried the TV series a while back too but for some reason I didn't think that was as good as the books.

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    1. See above for my thoughts on the Netflix series, Cath. I actually gave up on the series for several months at one point because they just didn't seem to be doing justice to the books as I remembered them. Then, when they ran out of books, things took a turn for the better. I suppose that the freedom to be more creative with the characters helped a lot.

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  4. I always get annoyed when authors tell and not show, too. Especially when I know they're better than that. It sometimes makes me think they're just phoning it in, you know?

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    1. This is one of my worst pet peeves about books, so I'm kind of hard on any author guilty of doing it - especially one of my favorites like Craig Johnson.

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