Monday, March 25, 2013

Longmire

Guest post by Baloo: 

This isn't about the TV show on A&E.  I haven't seen that yet, though I'm looking forward to it. No, it's about the books by Craig Johnson.  Ever since Tony Hillerman died, I've been intermittently groping around trying to find something to replace his stuff.  Mysteries set in the West, with an Indian connection if possible.  And well-written.  I tried the Thurlo books, and they didn't do it for me.  Too much of the mysterious Indian spirituality or whatever in it.  Hillerman just wrote about Indians as people. — damned interesting people, and entertaining people, but just people.  And I recently took a crack at some Margaret Coel, and there was too much lo, the poor Indian for me.  There might be some other stuff out there, but I haven't found it.  And I say that because I just recently found Craig Johnson, and he's been turning these things out for eight or nine years.  And I wouldn't have found him yet, if A&E hadn't made the TV show, leading to a boxed set of the novels, with the illustration of Longmire I've added here, which kept catching my eye at Barnes & Noble, till I picked up the first to take a look.  You can't judge a book by its cover, but you can be attracted by it.

Well, I got hooked immediately.  The books start with Longmire, Sheriff of a hell-and-gone county in northern Wyoming, near retirement.  My mind's eye sees him as resembling Joe Arpaio because of his age and size and the fact that he's a sheriff, I suppose.  He has a friend from childhood, a Cheyenne Indian, and, no, we don't get into the Great Spirit or any of that junk.  His friend, Henry Standing Bear, shows up in my mind's eye as an older version of John Redcorn.  Anyhow, Henry is one hell of a funny Indian, funny in the way you might expect from Gunsmoke or maybe even Carl Hiaasen. Subtle funny.  And the books as a whole are subtle funny.

Well, I like these books and I recommend them, and I don't want to give too much away.  I'll say that they somehow remind me of MacDonalds' Travis McGee books, only funnier and not so cynical.  There's a little bit of a Heinlein old-fashioned good guy feel to Longmire himself.  Longmire has a deputy from Philadelphia, who is also funny as all hell, and who is (I'm guessing) appropriately portrayed by Katie Sackhoff on the TV show.  It's good to see Starbuck again.  As for the plots, they're damn good mystery plots all by themselves, and would make for good books even if the characters weren't so appealing.  The plots make me think of Ellery Queen for some reason. Probably because of the unexpected twists. Twists are common, but in the case of the Longmire stories, they're credible twists, which are a lot harder to write.  Now, they also sort of remind me of the Robert B. Parker novels, which I hasten to assure you, is a compliment, because they were (and still are — others are writing them since Parker's death) well written and powerful page-turners.  But the problem with Parker is that his stuff is excruciatingly politically correct.  In one novel, the protagonist, Spencer, needed help and assembled a bunch of action heroes he knew from here and there, and, honest to God, just like the Howling Commandoes, one was Black, one was Mexican, one was an Indian, and one was a homosexual, and so forth.  Whew!  Well, Craig Johnson isn't like that.  Oh, he's faintly politically correct, in that the good guys are kind of knee-jerk tolerant, but he doesn't sermonize about it.  In fact, he doesn't sermonize about much of anything, but, as the best writers do, lets us come to our own conclusions from the narrative.

So go check these books out.  Libraries should have them.  And you could do what I did, and buy the whole bunch.  If you reread books at all, you'll reread these.

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