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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson

Viking Adult, 160 pages, $20

As author Craig Johnson explains in the acknowledgements, Spirit of Steamboat was supposed to have been a short story, a gift that Craig usually gives his readers at Christmas. There was so much to tell, however, that the tale grew and, voilĂ , this novella appeared. Although it was only 160 pages — versus today’s average of 350 pages — it didn’t feel lacking in anything. Craig also mentions this story isn’t a mystery but an adventure. He says that it isn’t about someone who dies at the beginning but about how to keep people alive.

Spirit of Steamboat stars Sheriff Walt “Boy Howdy” Longmire. He is joined by his lawman predecessor, Lucian Connally, in this Christmas tale. The night before Christmas in 1988, two lawmen begin an impossible journey to help a young girl. Flying in a bucket of bolts, in a snowstorm, with a drunk pilot, a novice copilot, a doctor who adjures his diety in German, and a grandmother who doesn’t speak English isn’t Walt’s idea of a good time, especially when his wife and young daughter expect to spend Christmas Eve with him. But a cowboy’s got to do what a cowboy’s got to do.

The humor was scattered throughout and brought about the requisite titters and guffaws (e.g., “…fog so thick you could’a cut sheep out of it with shears”), but Craig was really aiming for the tear ducts this time. I was tearing up by page 66, quietly crying by page 116, and sobbing by page 151. Not bad for a 160-page book.

Although it’s not Christmas any longer, that shouldn’t stop you from reading a most excellent story about the power of positive thinking, and the usefulness of experience under fire and episodes of MacGyver.

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