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Friday, August 8, 2008

Another Man's Moccasins (hardcover, $24.95), by Craig Johnson

Johnson is a teaser. He drops tantalizing little bits into his narrative and doesn’t explain them until way later. What’s an FBI? What is Virgil White Buffalo’s story? What is the rest of Virgil White Buffalo’s story? Thankfully, he doesn’t forget to reel in all the strings of thought he drops.

Walt Longmire is sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. I’d vote for him. He’s the kind of sheriff who could track a killer on the one hand and rescue a cat on the other. His sidekick is artist/Cheyenne/lifelong friend/fellow Vietnam vet Henry Standing Bear, aka “Cheyenne Nation,” “Bear,” “the big guy.” His daughter Cady suffered a serious injury in the last book, Kindness Goes Unpunished, and has come home temporarily from Philadelphia to recuperate. Vic, Longmire’s unrepentant and foul-mouthed deputy, challenges Walt to face squarely a continuation of the interesting romantic relationship that began in Philadelphia. Or not.

Insert into this already busy mix of living people the dead body of a young Vietnamese woman, a prostitute and petty criminal, found along a long, lonesome stretch of Wyoming road, far from her life in Vietnam and Orange County, California. The ultimate teaser, of course, is what the heck is she doing in Wyoming with a picture of Walt, taken thirty years ago in Vietnam, in her purse. Part of Another Man’s Moccasins is the story of another murder Marine Inspector Walt Longmire dealt with a lifetime ago in Vietnam. The narrative goes back and forth between then and now. Johnson has said that the Vietnam story is one that has been bubbling in his head for a long time.

The element in Johnson’s writing that has us, his diehard fans, eagerly awaiting the next book is his ability to form an emotional connection between us and his characters. His heroes and heroines know sacrifice and honor and courage, and he lets us ride along vicariously as they consciously choose the difficult path. With each bittersweet ending, we are wrapped that much tighter to his world. Not to mention he’s funny.

Dying is easy, comedy is hard, as the saying goes. The humor in Johnson’s books is not slapstick, broad, satirical, or farcical, but benevolent. A bewildered Longmire often finds himself the subject of affectionate humor from his near and dear. In turn, Longmire sings selections from his repertoire of “Ruby” songs to his dispatcher, Ruby, over the police band. Longmire’s dog has been given the placeholder name of “Dog,” while Walt waits to be inspired with a better name. Unfortunately, Walt fears, the time for a real name has come and gone, as “Dog” now answers quite readily to his placeholder name. Oh, well.

The first book in this series, A Cold Dish, is on Murder by the Book’s list of favorite books of the last 25 years.

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