My Favorite 2018 (Fictional) Dogs

In one of the lightest moments of Robert B. Parker’s Valediction (just before one of the darker), Spenser describes his reservation about the first two Star Wars movies: “No horses . . . I don’t like a movie without horses.” After watching Return of the Jedi, he comments that it was a silly movie, but “Horses would have saved it.” Which makes me wonder what he’d have thought about The Last Jedi. Horses aren’t my thing, it’s dogs. I’m not quite as bad as Spenser is about them — I like books without dogs. But occasionally a good dog would save a book for me — or make a good book even better. I got to thinking about this a few weeks back when I realized just how many books I’d read last year that featured great dogs — and then I counted those books and couldn’t believe it. I tried to stick to 10 (because that’s de rigueur), but I failed. I also tried to leave it with books that I read for the first time in 2018 — but I couldn’t cut two of my re-reads.

So, here are my favorite dogs from 2018 — they added something to their novels that made me like them more, usually they played big roles in the books (but not always).

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Edgar from The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven (my post about the book) — Edgar has a pretty small role in the book, really. But there’s something about him that made me like Washington Poe a little more — and he made Tilly Bradshaw pretty happy, and that makes Edgar a winner in my book.
  • Kenji from Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby (my post about the book) — The moment that Grigsby introduced Kenji to the novel, it locked in my appreciation for it. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the added detail of robot dogs — at once a trivial notion, and yet it says so much about the culture Cole Brannigan lives in. Also, he was a pretty fun dog.
  • Rutherford from The TV Detective by Simon Hall (my post about the book) — Dan Groves’ German Shepherd is a great character. He provides Dan with companionship, a sounding board, a reason to leave the house — a way to bond with the ladies. Dan just felt more like a real person with Rutherford in his life. Yeah, he’s never integral to the plot (at least in the first two books of the series), but the books wouldn’t work quite as well without him.
  • Oberon from Scourged by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book) — Everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound doesn’t get to do much in this book, because Atticus is so focused on keeping him safe (as he should be). But when he’s “on screen,” he makes it count. He brings almost all of the laughs and has one of the best ideas in the novel.
  • Mouse from Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (my post about the book) — From the moment we read, “My name is Mouse and I am a Good Dog. Everyone says so,” a good novella becomes a great one. As the series has progressed, Mouse consistently (and increasingly) steals scenes from his friend, Harry Dresden, and anyone else who might be around. But here where we get a story (in part) from his perspective, Mouse takes the scene stealing to a whole new level. He’s brave, he’s wise, he’s scary, he’s loyal — he’s a very good dog.
  • Ruffin from Wrecked by Joe Ide (my post about the book) — Without Isaiah Quintabe’s dog opening up conversation between IQ and Grace, most of this book wouldn’t have happened — so it’s good for Grace’s sake that Ruffin was around. And that case is made even more from the way that Ruffin is a support for Grace. He also is a fantastic guard dog and saves lives. His presence is a great addition to this book.
  • Dog from An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson (my post about the book) — I might have been able to talk myself into ignoring re-reads if I hadn’t listened to this audiobook (or any of the series, come to think of it) last year — or if Dog had been around in last year’s novel. Dog’s a looming presence, sometimes comic relief (or at least a mood-lightener), sometimes a force of nature. Dog probably gets to do more for Walt in this book — he helps Walt capture some, he attacks others, just being around acts as a deterrent for many who’d want to make things rough on Walt. Walt couldn’t ask for a better partner.
  • Trogdor from The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin (my post about the book) — Honestly, Trogdor probably has the least impact on the book than any of the dogs on this list. But, come on, a Corgi names Trodgor? The idea is cute enough to justify inclusion here. He’s a good pet, a fitting companion for MG — not unlike Dan’s Rutherford. He just adds a little something to the mix that helps ground and flesh-out his human companion.
  • Mingus from The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie (my post about the book) — Like Trogdor, a great name. Like Mouse and Dog, a great weapon. He’s really a combination of the two of them (just lacking Mouse’s magical nature). He’s vital in many different ways to the plot and the safety of those we readers care about. Petrie made a good move when he added this beast of a dog to the novel.
  • Chet from Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (my posts about Chet) — If I couldn’t cut Dog, I couldn’t cut Chet. Listening to this audiobook (my 4th or 5th time through the novel, I believe) reminded me how much I love and miss Chet — and how eager I am for his return this year. This Police Academy reject is almost as good a detective as his partner, Bernie, is. Chet will make you laugh, he’ll warm your heart, he’ll make you want a dog of your own (actually, all of these dogs will)
  • Zoey from Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt (my post about the book) — how do I not invoke Tara when discussing an Andy Carpenter book? Good question. It’s Zoey that brings Andy into the story, it’s Zoey that helps Don to cope with his own issues, it’s Zoey that defends Don and saves him (in many ways). Sure, Tara’s the best dog in New Jersey, but Zoey comes close to challenging her status in this book.
  • Lopside from Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout (my post about the book) — It almost feels like cheating to bring in a dog from a novel about dogs — conversely, it’s hard to limit it to just one dog from this book. But Lopside the Barkonaut would demand a place here if he was the only dog among a bunch of humans — or if he was surrounded by more dogs. He’s brave, he’s self-sacrificing, he’s a hero. He’ll charm you and get you to rooting for these abandoned canines in record time.
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Craig Johnson in Boise

I put off posting this to go along with the blog post for the book. Which I expected to do a month and a half ago. Whoops.

To celebrate the release of his new book in September, Rediscovered Books brought Craig Johnson to town for a reading, signing and whatnot — continuing something they’ve been doing since Johnson first started doing public appearances.

Johnson started off talking about his connection with Rediscovered and the early days of touring and public appearances. Then he sifted into talking about the new book (The Depth of Winter) and some of the preparation work he did for the book — including a snowy trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and a visit to Mexico where his guide kept insisting that he not tell anyone who he was (he’d be too attractive to kidnappers).

He did a little reading from the first chapter of the book — Johnson comes across as a natural at this. No offense to George Guidall, but Johnson would make a great Longmire audiobook narrator. Then he shifted to audience questions — which ranged from some talk about the TV series (maybe too much of that, but that’s probably just me) to the similarities between Vic and Mrs. Johnson to some of the early writing of the series. Johnson quickly and deftly transitioned from an answer to the question to an anecdote along the same lines, giving the audience member what they wanted to know and more. It was really one of the better Q&A sessions that I’ve been present for.

Then the signing kicked off — when my friend and I got close we heard a great story about Grace Slick’s reaction to The Western Star (I’d have paid good money for that story). My friend got in a good question and then it was my turn. And I got a refresher on why I blog instead of doing a podcast or vlog. Aside from one almost clever response to something he said, all I could muster up was 3-4 “Thank You”s to getting the picture, his signature and whatnot. No interesting question, no insightful comment about the series, observation about his work — or even an articulate appreciation for something about his writing. Nope. Just “Thank you,” and a feeling of inadequacy and inarticulateness.

Before the event, while my friend and I were waiting in line to pay for parking, I see a gentleman walk up wearing a large hat. I mutter something to myself about hoping I didn’t get stuck behind this guy, because between that hat and his height, there was no way I’d be able to see Johnson. Actually, given the “Western wear” the guy was sporting, he could almost pass for Johnson, I remember thinking. Except this gentleman was younger than I remembered pictures of Johnson appearing. Naturally, about ten minutes later, we’re talking to people sitting in the same row who talked about riding up in the elevator with Johnson. I said something about talking myself out of thinking he was in line behind us for parking. They replied with something about the green plaid shirt and I felt like the world’s worst fan. Clearly, I care more about a writer’s words than his appearance. On the plus side, not recognizing him spared both of us the opportunity to unleash my eloquence on him earlier.

That aside, it was a great night — Johnson can tell a story in person as well as he can on paper. Sure, the audience was already predisposed to enjoy him — but he kept our attention and rewarded it. If you have a chance, I highly recommend going to one of his public appearances — you’ll have a blast.

Depth of Winter by Craig Johnson: Walt Goes South of the Border on a Rescue Mission

Spoilers for The Western Star appear below, read at your own risk if you haven’t caught up.

Depth of WinterDepth of Winter

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire, #14

Hardcover, 292 pg.
Viking, 2018
Read: September 27 – 29, 2018

“I wish we had more weapons.”

I thought about the fact that we pretty much just had the Colt at my back, the FN, and the collection of antique weaponry in the gym bag. “Me, too.”

He lit the cigar and pocketed the lighter. “You know he is going to kill you.”

“I know it’s a possibility.”

He took a deep puff, savoring the tobacco, and then slowly exhaled. “I’d say it’s a probability.”

With just a little adjustment to what happened at the end of The Western Star, Johnson picks up shortly after Walt takes off on the trail of Tomás Bidarte who has arranged for the kidnapping of Cady. It’s a suicide mission and not one with much likelihood of success — but Walt’s convinced he has no choice and is determined he will survive long enough to get Cady freed. He has no plan (that we know of) to keep her safe after he’s dead, but seems to believe he’ll have made her safe beforehand.

To do this, he elicits some help from a maverick-y US Border Patrol agent and some interesting characters from a blind and legless man who serves as Walt’s guide, his nephew, and a former spy turned doctor to help him get to and infiltrate Bidarte’s compound. The most intriguing of Walt’s new allies is a young man named Isidro, a Tarahumara and a sharpshooter that puts Vic to shame. Both his mannerisms and backstory really sold me on him — more than I expected.

I’ve pushed off writing this post because I’m not sure what to say about it. Yes, it was exciting. Yes, there’s a lot of good action — and seeing Walt out of his element, dependent upon others to explain the world around him and for backup is a nice change of pace.

But . . .

It’s not Walt Longmire. Walt’s an honorable man. A man of law and order (I know, I know…he’s also going to make exceptions where Cady is concerned). He’s a guy who figures things out, he’s not a one man (or one man with strong support) vigilante army. That Walt is hard to find in this book, replaced with some sort of not-quite Bryan Mills-level action hero.

Bidarte’s become some sort of super-villain. Some sort of strange mashup of a James Bond villain and the head of a CBS procedural’s Drug Cartel. And that was hard to take. I also have a hard time swallowing the idea of . . . well, I can’t talk about that without spoiling anything. But there’s an auction — and I can’t buy: 1. the idea of it; 2. the number of bidders; 3. how that all played out. If you read/will read the book, you’ll know what I mean.

I am so glad I got to meet Isidro, and I wouldn’t mind more time with The Seer and the doctor and their families — or even the Border Patrol agent (he’d be a lot of fun with Walt’s FBI or State Police friends). But under very different circumstances. The story is exciting — there’s some good chuckles, a couple of great fight scenes, a lot of heart. There’s a lot to commend this book for. But it’s not a Walt Longmire book to me, and that’s its fatal flaw.

Going into this, I feared it’d be Johnson’s equivalent to Parker’s A Catskill Eagle, a book that had Parker’s character act out of character on his mission to save the most important woman in his life. But I hoped that Johnson would be able to avoid the problems that Parker ran into. I don’t think he succeeded, I’m sure that others will disagree. This one just didn’t do much for me, and the more time I think about it, the worse it fares. So I’m going to try to not think about it again for a while.

I do look forward to seeing Walt back in Wyoming, dealing with some/all of the fallout and repercussions of the events of this book. But most of all I look forward to seeing Walt be Walt again.

—–

3 Stars

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

Wait for SignsWait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire

Hardcover, 183 pg.
Viking, 2014

Read: August 28, 2017


We’ve got a collection of twelve stories here — 1 new story and 11 previously published, with a nice introduction by Lou Diamond Phillips. As Johnson describes the collection, “some are mysteries, some have mysterious elements, and others are no mystery at all, just glimpses into Walt’s life.”

That’s pretty much all you need to know — if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll find plenty to appreciate. If you’re new to the world of Walt Longmire, I’d try the novels first.

There are a couple of stories that deal with Walt’s ongoing grief over his wife, Martha, one of which I found pretty moving. There’s some decent action, a good deal of Walt being really clever. All the regulars make an appearance (however brief in some cases): Sancho, Lucian, Lonnie Little Bird, Cady, Vic (less of her than you’d expect), and lots of Henry. There’s not a loser in the bunch — yeah, there’s a couple that could be better, but even they were enjoyable. “Messenger” is quite possibly the funniest thing that Johnson has written to date — and that’s saying something. Ridiculous — yet with a little bit of good action.

Perfect for those who need a quick fix of Absaroka County, Wyoming’s Sheriff.

2017 Library Love Challenge

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3.5 Stars

Kindness Goes Unpunished (Audiobook) by Craig Johnson, George Guidall

Kindness Goes Unpunished (Audiobook)Kindness Goes Unpunished

by Craig Johnson, George Guidall
Series: Walt Longmire, #3
Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 42 min. pg.
Recorded Books, 2011
Read: June 29 – July 3, 2017

I was going to try to come up with something original for this time through the book, but mostly, I liked what I said last time, so let’s stick to that. I do have a few new things to say at the end, I should note.

It’s a sure sign that I need to spend more time reading Johnson than watching the show based on this series in that I’m consistently surprised at how funny these books are. Sure Henry Standing Bear’s dry wit is there, Vic is brash and inappropriate — amusing enough — but the narration, Walt himself? I chuckled a lot.

So, Walt and Henry (and Dog!) are off to the City of Brotherly Love to visit Walt’s daughter, Cady, meet her boyfriend, and for Henry to do something at a museum (just an excuse to see Cady). Oh, and conveniently enough, to meet Vic’s family (three police officers, one former police officer, and one attractive mother). After arriving in town, Walt doesn’t even get to see Cady before she’s brutally attacked and hospitalized.

Naturally, Walt stumbles upon the one person in Philadelphia who’s more knowledgeable and interested in Indians than Henry. It’s that interest (obsession?) and his connection to Walt that makes Walt the best man to track down the man who put Cady in the hospital (and other assorted nefarious acts). That’s a level of coincidence that you just buy — like Gideon Oliver vacationing somewhere that a set of bones surprisingly shows up; Nero Wolfe needing information from someone who’s a sucker for orchids; or that every falsely accused murderers that Andy Carpenter stumbles upon happen to own a cute dog.

There’s enough twists, turns — and one seeming unnecessary but entertaining diversion (that turns out to be not so ancillary) — to satisfy any mystery reader. Even out of water, this fish can swim. There’s some very interesting things that go on in the character’s personal lives that should make things interesting down the road (and that I can’t talk about while remaining spoiler free) — enough to make this more than a tale of a father’s vengeance.

The first chapter (only one in Wyoming) is great — Walt totally failing to connect with an elementary school classroom, a fun and prototypical Absaroka County shootout, and other things that make up a typical day for Sheriff Longmire on the eve of his trip.

One thing that I did take note of last time, but didn’t write about was the theme of daughters and parents. There’s a lot about Vic and her mother, but the focus is on Cady and the place that she has in Walt’s head and heart. I’m not sure how you could read/listen to this without your heart melting a bit — particularly if you have a daughter who’s growing up a bit too quickly, like me. Guidall did a solid job with his narration of this book, but his performance in the last chapter just about broke me.

Walt in the big city, like Walt in the least populated corner of Wyoming, is just a pleasure to spend time with — even if things are going horribly for him.

—–

4 Stars

Death Without Company (Audiobook) by Craig Johnson, George Guidall

Death Without CompanyDeath Without Company

by Craig Johnson, George Guidall
Series: Walt Longmire, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs. and 51 mins
Recorded Books, 2007
Read: June 7- 12, 2017

Everything to do with women is foolish, and, therefore, absolutely essential.

This novel picks up a couple of weeks after The Cold Dish, with Walt still trying to get his head on straight — and it’s not going to well. The major impetus for him now is the impending arrival of his daughter, Cady, for a visit over the holidays. There was enough of a gap between the time I read the first two installments in this series that I missed a lot of the ties that connected the two. I appreciated a lot of the little nuances this time through the novel that I’d missed the first time.

Otherwise, I pretty much agree with what I said before:

The atmosphere of the book, the relationships between Vic, the Ferg, Henry, Cady and Walt are effortless, they feel like coworkers and friends. So even when the bodies start to pile up, the external pressures mount, and answers are in short supply, there’s an ease to things that make the book more entertaining than it could’ve been. Even as Sheriff, Walt still comes across as deferential and secondary to his former boss Lucian Connally (though he doesn’t hesitate to put his foot down when necessary).

When Lucian tells Walt in no uncertain terms that a death in the retirement home he lives in is not from natural causes, he has to investigate. Even if he’s not entirely convinced. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Lucian’s right — otherwise, we wouldn’t have a novel to read. Which takes Walt on a journey through the murky history of both one of Walt’s oldest friends and the area he calls home — this time with a different minority group as the focus (though the Rez and its inhabitants are always lurking around in the background).

There’s a new romantic interest in these pages — as well as a couple of new deputies for Absaroka County (the particular skill set of one of these is a bit too deus ex machina-y for my tastes, but he’s so likable, who cares?). Throw in the kind of snow storm you can only get in rural Wyoming (or areas like it) and some brushes with Indian spirituality, and you get a distinctive kind of mystery novel, making the adventures of Walt Longmire and his cohorts the kind of story you can get nowhere else. It won’t take me as long to come back to this series next time.

Guidall took awhile to grow on me in the first book — but now he’s just what Walt sounds like (I imagine when I read a Longmire book the voice in my head will be some sort of blend between Guidall and Robert Taylor). I thought he did a great job all around.

This novel took the foundation that Johnson laid and started building on it so that it could become the series we all love. I’m glad I got a chance to revisit it, and recommend those that haven’t tried it yet to come on down to Absaroka County.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Cold Dish (Audiobook) by Craig Johnson, George Guidall

The Cold DishThe Cold Dish

by Craig Johnson, George Guidall
Series: Walt Longmire, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs. and 18 mins
Recorded Books, 2007

Read: June 7- 12, 2017


This is by and large what I had to say about the book a couple of years ago — but I’ve expanded it a touch.

It’s hard to believe this is a first novel. I love it when that happens. Johnson is assured in his writing, he knows his characters and their world, there’s no mistaking that. The world and the characters are very well-developed, it’s hard to believe that Johnson worked in as much backstory as he did for these characters in such a short space. Walt, Vic, Henry Standing Bear, Lucien — they’re all fully fleshed out and ready to go.

As always, the mixture of Cheyenne Mysticism (for lack of a better word) and Longmire’s realism (and Vic’s cynicism) is great — even at this point, Johnson’s ready to present things that could be Cheyenne ghosts, or it could be Longmire’s mind playing tricks on him as a result of injury and exposure without taking a clear narrative stance. It’s not a fast-paced tale by any means–Johnson saunters through his prose like Longmire would through the world. That doesn’t mean it’s not gripping, though. It’s lush with detail, as scenic and expansive as the Wyoming country it takes place in.

It took awhile for Guidall’s narration to work for me, I did eventually come around, and I expect I’ll enjoy him more fully in the next book.

I figured out whodunit pretty quickly, but it took a while to get the why. The journey to the why was compelling, interesting and well worth the time. Looking forward to the next installment.

—–

4 Stars