The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson

The Dark HorseThe Dark Horse

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire, #5

Hardcover, 318 pg.
Viking Adult, 2009

Read: June 22 – 23, 2015

. . . we walked into the middle of the rutted and powdery two-track that stretched to the horizon; the only other road curled off to the right and disappeared into the distance as well.

I thought about how we tilled and cultivated the land, planted trees on it, fenced it, built houses on it, and did everything we could to hold off the eternity of distance–anything to give the landscape some sort of human scale. No matter what we did to try and form the West, however, the West inevitably formed us instead.

One thing I particularly appreciate about the Longmire books is the effort that Johnson puts into making them distinct from each other — one of the hazards of mystery series is that books can blend in with each other, but that’s not the case (so far) with these. There are two distinct features to this book — 1. Narratively: Walt tries (and kind of succeeds) to go undercover to investigate a murder in a nearby county; 2. Mechanically: the narration keeps jumping back and forth from “the present,” where Walt’s been investigating for a couple of weeks, and then to the point a few weeks earlier where Walt starts to becoming involved in the investigation.

I guess it’s also noteworthy that there’s really no Indian spirituality to speak of — practically no Henry, for that matter (although he makes his presence felt when he’s around).

Anyway, a Sheriff of a neighboring county gets Walt to hold a prisoner for trial for him — a woman who confessed to murdering her louse of a husband. Repeatedly confessed, no less. Given the confession (and some other evidence), he can’t investigate things further — as much as he thinks it might be needed. Still, he knows ol’ Walt won’t worry about the politics or difficulties involved if he sniffs something rotten in Wyoming. Walt falls into the not-so-cleverly-lain trap and starts finding the problems with the confession. Which leads to him assuming the identity of an insurance investigator and doing a little investigating.

He’s almost comically bad at it, but he’s enough of a stranger that it doesn’t matter — he can just be Walt, talking history, drinking beer and nosing around. Add in some horses, some fisticuffs, a spunky kid and a little gunplay — and you’ve got yourself a solid mystery novel.

One of the episodes of the show Longmire was loosely based on this novel, but by “loosely” I mean there are horses, a fire, Walt, and a married couple. That’s pretty much it. So, those who’ve seen the episode can feel free to read the book without any fear of knowing whodunit (and vice versa).

There’s a little movement on the character development front — people recovering from wounds, some other recurring characters moving in the background, and some development on various romantic fronts, too. The serialized component isn’t a major factor in this series, but it’s there — mostly downplayed this time, but still, present. Oh, the election that’s been lurking in the background for forever? Taken care of so quickly, your head’ll spin — what the results mean for things going forward, time will tell. I think I like that approach to it — just blink and you’ll miss it.

Yet again, Johnson delivers a great read — and Sheriff Longmire and Absaroka County prove they can be just as interesting as Det. Bosch and L.A., Spenser and Boston, or Det. Hatcher and NYC.


3.5 Stars

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