Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Two Wyoming Detectives

We drove over to Colorado to hear Craig Johnson give a little talk and sign some books, and it was well worth the trip. Not only is he a top-notch author, but he's a surprisingly entertaining speaker, much more glib than his character, Walt Longmire. If he shows up for a presentation near your town, go see him.

It occurred to me that I'm actively following three detective novel series that are currently being written — One is Laurie King's compelling Sherlock Holmes variation, and the other two are about detectives from Wyoming. What are the odds? Otherwise pretty different, though. The first is, of course, Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series, which I recommend that you buy as a set and start at the beginning. The latest book is Any Other Name, but, like I say, you should buy them as a set and read from the start. You can find them all HERE. There's also a very popular TV show based on the series, which is as good as a TV show can be, and obviously the best "Western" since Gunsmoke.  It diverges from the books, largely in that it's simplified, which is standard practice, and I'd have done much the same myself. If you're a fan of the show, the books will probably appeal all the more to you, because there's more to them. In summary, Longmire is Wyoming born and bred, a Vietnam vet, and the Sheriff of a county up near the Montana border, next to an Indian reservation. Like Dodge City, the damnedest things pass through Absaroka County, from Chinese herbalist drug dealers to renegade cops from Philadelphia, and Walt copes with them all, frequently getting roughed up and wounded in a way that would make Bruce Willis jealous.
Craig Johnson. In person, he looks like my high
school chemistry teacher.

I'd say that these stories can be described as Westerns for people who don't like Westerns, they're that good. They're full-fledged mysteries, too, well-plotted and challenging. They'll remind you of Tony Hillerman, of course, but I find them deeper and more meaningful. They also remind me of Travis McGee, for some reason.  Probably because both he and Longmire are big guys, former football players, and, in the tradition of detective stories, both have a lone-wolf air about them. Before I forget, the TV show just stared its third season, and, again, if you haven't seen them, I recommend that you buy the DVD's from the first two seasons and start from the beginning. Oh. If you don't know already, watch the actor who portrays Longmire, Robert Taylor, and try to guess where he's from.

The other series is, surprisingly, Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels. They've been going on a long time, and Parker died a year or so ago, but they're now being written by Ace Atkins. Actually, Ace Atkins, in my opinion, writes them better than Parker did, but that's just me. The segue here is that Spenser (we never hear his first name) is also from Wyoming, where he learned his ethics and Weltanshauung from his father and uncles, but has been a private detective in Boston for a very long time. As far as readability is concerned, these are among my favorite mysteries, but they're nowhere near as deep as Longmire. That's not to say they have no depth, but they're flawed mainly by being sometimes excruciatingly politically correct, and Parker felt that he had to have positive characters from every trendy classification — Black, Jewish, Amerindian, Gay, etc. etc. — But when you get past all that you're in for a good read. Actually, Atkins seems to have ameliorated that tendency a little. There was a Spenser for Hire TV series many years back, which I've never seen, but which I understand was pretty pallid in comparison to the books. Though both are Wyomingans (Wyomingers?), Longmire and Spenser are otherwise similar only in that they're smart, dependable, and ethical. Longmire is all country and eats diner food and seems to have been wearing the same clothes since the Nixon administration. Spenser has become a sophisticated city guy (reminiscent of Archie Goodwin in that respect), does gourmet cooking, and is always telling the reader about his clothes. It's Matt Dillon versus James Bond, sort of.

Well, the Spenser books are easy to find — They're all over libraries and bookstores, so you can easily sample some. It's not very important to read them in order at all, though there are some minor arcs. If you like the mystery genre, you'll probably like them.

1 comment:

  1. I first saw Robert Taylor in the Aussie mini series "Killing Time" on Netflix. He plays a drug addled psychiatrist who couldn't be anymore different from Walt. It's worth a watch if you get a chance. Actually I've found all of the Aussie shows on Netflix instant have been very good. Underbelly, Rake, etc. Lewis33