Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Western Star - Craig Johnson


The Western Star
(2017) is the thirteenth novel in Craig Johnson’s now sixteen-book-long series featuring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire. The Longmire series began in 2004 with The Cold Dish, and Johnson has pretty much been adding a new volume to the Longmire story once a year ever since. There are even three short story collections, two novellas, and one standalone e-book short story about the sheriff, all published between 2012 and 2016. That’s a lot of Walt Longmire for fans to enjoy, but for whatever reason, I found myself still not having read the middle-bunch of the novels, books 9-13 or the story collections. Now, I can mark book 13 off that list. 

As it turns out, The Western Star answers all of the questions I had about the next book in the series, Depth of Winter, so I would strongly recommend reading these two in the order in which they were published. That’s not to say that Depth of Winter doesn’t work well as a standalone, because it does. I just think that it would be so much more enjoyable to read these two back-to-back now that both of them have been published because they combine to tell what is essentially one long story about Walt and his daughter Cady. 

Even though Johnson deftly moves in and out of his three separate plotlines, The Western Star is a little complicated. One plotline flashes all the way back to 1972 when Longmire is a brand new deputy sheriff of two-weeks experience. A second takes place in the present and sees Longmire in Cheyenne to offer his testimony at a probation hearing just as he has done every four years since the incarcerated killer has been eligible for parole. And a third, which is really a part of the 1972 plotline, explores the relationship between Longmire and his new wife, a relationship that is on the brink of ending in divorce even though his wife is four months pregnant. 

All the usual suspects are involved in keeping Walt safe from those who wish him harm – and from himself and his tendency to just jump in with both feet no matter the personal danger – in this one. Lucian Connolly, the old sheriff who first hired Longmire is there mostly for moral support; Vic Moretti is around to take the heat off of Longmire as often as she can; and Henry Standing Bear is there to do any-and-everything it takes to help out his best friend. Henry and Walt have had a bond since the Vietnam War, and almost half a century later, it is as strong as ever. 

Craig Johnson
Present-day action takes place in November on a special train full of Wyoming sheriffs. The “Western Star” is a vintage “excursion” train that stops every two hours on its way to deliver all the sheriffs to their Wyoming Sheriffs’ Association meeting, and when one of them is murdered, another disappears, and Longmire himself is knocked cold and left for dead on the tracks, Walt Longmire decides that maybe, just maybe, law enforcement is not something he really wants to do with the rest of his life. 

The Western Star is Craig Johnson’s tribute to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, and Johnson does himself and Christie proud. Johnson even has Longmire carry a copy of the Christie novel around in his back pocket for most of The Western Star despite Longmire’s inability to get past the last chapter of Part II of the novel before his reading time abruptly ends. But no matter how many times that book slips out of Longmire’s pocket, he always manages to retrieve it just in case he might want to slip in a page or two later on. 

Bottom Line: The Western Star is an important book in the Longmire series because it provides so much of Walt’s backstory. It is also a key book in the sense that it portends the near-estrangement between Longmire and his daughter that becomes a key issue in the books to follow. In many ways, The Western Star is great fun, but this is a serious book, and it does not end well for Longmire and what’s left of his family. Just be thankful that you won’t have to wait a whole year to find out what happens next…Depth of Winter was published in 2018.

8 comments:

  1. I enjoy this series on Netflix but it's past time I started reading this series I think. I love that he carries a Christie book through this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought that was a nice touch, too. Johnson only mentions the actual title of the book late in The Western Star, but he makes it kind of obvious that it has to be Murder on the Orient Express. It's a fun part of the book, for sure.

      Delete
  2. I couldn't watch the Netflix series because I already had the characters in my head from the books. I haven't read The Western Star yet, but I am going to catch up!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't have as much trouble with the Netflix characters as I thought I would, Jen. The actors playing Longmire and Henry Standing Bear were exactly the way I pictured the characters in the book. I had a problem for a long time with the actress playing Vic Moretti because she doesn't strike me as much resembling Vic in the books, but I got used to her, and now I picture the actress in my mind when I read a Longmire book. (Not sure if that's a good thing or not.) Oh, and the woman who played Cady was also a perfect fit for me.

      Delete
  3. I love that he's carrying around a copy of Christie's book with him. That's so fun. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lark, he even picked the book back up after waking up near frozen to death beside the railroad tracks and put it back into his pocket. And the same, after a fight or two with the bad guys.

      Delete
  4. I didn't have a problem with my mental casting and the TV casting of Longmire. I knew that they couldn't write Vic's character as she is in the books for PC reasons, but she was still the weak link for me. I didn't envy the actress for taking on the part. For some reason, both sets of characters stay completely separate in my mind. Don't know what that says about me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Vic is definitely the TV character I had the biggest problem with, too. Even physically, she's not much the way Johnson describes her in the books.

      Delete