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Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Western Star by Craig Johnson

Viking, 304 pages, $28

Wait! What? I predict that is exactly what you will say upon finishing this book. Ingenious author or wicked tormentor? That Craig Johnson is some clever cowboy.

This is Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire’s upmteenth millionth adventure. Thank goodness they have all been embellished by Johnson’s humor! This time around, Johnson tells two and a half tales, resulting in two-and-a-half times the fun. 

Once in a while Walt travels to Cheyenne to appear at the parole hearing of a criminal he put in jail many years ago. It was his first case as the deputy sheriff of Absaroka County, under Sheriff Lucian Connelly. The case didn’t take place in Absaroka County, however, but on a train full of sheriffs having a rootin’, tootin’ time riding the rails through Wyoming, celebrating their good cases and finding a sympathetic ear for the cases that didn’t end as well. Surely nothing bad could happen on a train full of lawmen. But murder most foul, in the best tradition of Agatha Christie, does its best to derail the happy times. Dame Aggie even makes a cameo appearance in the form of a paperback copy of “Murder on the Orient Express” that Walt carries around like a talisman. In the end, Walt catches the villain, and it is his parole hearing Walt attends.

The present time story plays mostly as a backdrop to the telling of the old story in which the murderer was brought to justice. In that “origin” story set in 1972, Johnson gives us more of a sense of Walt’s mindset when he first left the military and felt unmoored in civilian life. He had just married Martha, the love of his life, and that relationship had hit a bump in the road as tall as the Rockies. Walt has always had a strong sense of justice and honor, as well as a good understanding of human nature, and those qualities were evident even way back when. Walt had also been whacked a couple of times on the head during the course of his investigation, so he was also a tad grouchy and temperamental.

The usual suspects also serve as backup in the present story: The Cheyenne Nation, The Greatest Legal Mind of Our Time, the undersheriff, the granddaughter, and the old man. They flit around as babysitters, house painters, and couch movers for most of the book, until they are required to haul out their firearms in a good cause.

Craig Johnson has always come through for his readers, but this one elicited more than one gasp. So two-three gasps equals one MBTB star!

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