Viking, 336 pages, $28
Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming, and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, are off on their twelfth (full-length) adventure. Hulett, Wyoming, is a little town with a tiny population, but it swells when the bikers come to visit, spilling over from the famous Sturgis, South Dakota, motorcycle festival. The draw is an infamous hill-climbing contest for motorcycles. Of course, Henry has brought his classic Indian motorcycle to try his hand at the contest he won in his youth. Now, pretty far from his youth, Henry remains optimistic that he has one more win left in his toolbox.
I think the first obvious fact is that Wyoming author (and dedicated motorcycle rider) Craig Johnson never takes the easy road. “An Obvious Fact” lands pretty far from where it began. First off, the Lola, after whom Henry’s beloved ’59 Thunderbird is named, shows up, guns and grins flashing. She’s not quite a lady and she’s far from the young woman Henry romanced (not quite the correct word) years ago. Then Lola’s son, Bodaway, is injured in a motorcycle incident. Was it an accident? If not, was his gang involved? Was his secret girlfriend involved? Whatever, Walt and Henry are now involved.
Then there’s Brady Post, the ATF undercover agent working as the enforcer of the Tre Tre Nomads, one of the baddest of the motorcycle gangs, which just happens to be the one affiliated with Lola and her son. They’ve all brought their badness to Hulett. In the blink of an eye, Walt and Henry’s quixotic trip turns into something sinister.
Why is the ATF sniffing around the Tre Tre Nomads? It’s not alcohol. It’s not tabacky. It must be guns. Other than the revolvers people are using for grudge shooting and the ones used in the annual skeet shooting contest, there’s nary a gun in sight. The ATF man may have revealed himself to Walt and Henry, but he’s closed-mouthed about what he’s looking for. What does he know about Bodaway’s injury?
Then Johnson tosses an MRAP, nicknamed “Pequod” because it’s big and white, into the escalating story. The MRAP is a tank that a millionaire resident of Hulett donated to the police department. It runs at a chilling top speed of twenty-miles-an-hour and strikes ennui into the hearts of the citizens moseying in its path. Walt is happy to help out his fellow sheriff who, while proud to have the MRAP, does not even know how to start it. With its upgraded CD player, audio, and flashing lights, it providentially provides Walt with a mobile office.
Vic eventually shows up and the Absaroka gang, sometimes on the right side of the law and sometimes not, is at the service of the Hulett PD, the ATF, and Lola Wojciechowski.
Craig Johnson has set a pretty high standard for action, quotable quotes, and humor in his long-running series. His writing translates well internationally. In fact, he is about to begin a tour of France, where he is lauded and has been laden with awards. Those are obvious facts.