Hardcover, 336 pg.
Read: September 24-25, 2019
It’s hard to think of a place in Wyoming where the wind doesn’t reign supreme; where the sovereignty of sound doesn’t break through the parks of the Bighorns with a hoarse-throated howl. I sometimes wonder if the trees miss the wind in the infrequent moments when it dies down, when the air is still and the skies are a threadbare blue, thin and stretching above the mountains. Needled courtesans—the lodgepole pines, Douglas firs, and Engelmann spruce—stand at the edge of the great park like wallflowers awaiting the beseeching hand of the wind to invite them to the dance floor. And I can’t help but wonder that when the sway passes and the trees are still, do they pine for that wind; do they grieve?
Ahhh…it’s good to be back in Absaroka County.
Walt starts off investigating the death of a sheep—probably at the hands, er, teeth of a wolf. This wolf is likely from Yellowstone and kicked out of his pack. Now that he’s probably/possibly killed a sheep, it certainly appears to be open season for him soon. Oddly, there’s no sign of a shepherd for this dead sheep, which gets Walt and Vic to go looking.
Sadly, they find the shepherd hanging from a tree—possibly the loneliness of the Wyoming wilderness got to him, or maybe he was killed. Neither case looks easy to wrap up, which means that it’s time for Walt to get back to focus more on the job and less on recovery from the horrible injuries (physical and mental) sustained in Mexico.
Walt is largely ready for this kind of thing, he needs something to focus on. He has to first deal with a labor and wildlife advocate who knew both the wolf and shepherd, and she doesn’t trust Walt’s approach to either. There’s also the shepherd’s employer—a member of the same family that left then-Sheriff Lucian Connally without a leg. There’s a populace worried about the presence of wolves in the area (ignoring the fact that there’s only one that’s been seen). Also, Henry adds the possibility that this wolf is actually a messenger from the spirits with a vision for Walt. Lastly, the entire Sheriff’s department wonders how long it’ll be until Walt does something to endanger his life—and just how bad that’ll be.
Most dramatically, a computer is installed on Walt’s desk, “the slippery slope to a cell phone.” Despite this intrusion of the 1990’s into his life, Walt perseveres.
This brings Walt back to Absaroka, he hasn’t spent a novel here since 2015’s Dry Bones (it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long), and the citizens are aware he’s spending a lot of time away. We see the old regulars, which should make long-time fans happy. But best of all, the story is classic Longmire—an exploration of Wyoming’s past and future just as much as it is the past and future of the characters (regulars and new to the series).
Early on, Walt’s on an unexpected hike and it’s taking it’s toll:
I pushed off the tree and started back at a slow pace, wondering if I ’d ever pick up the step I’d lost in Mexico. Maybe that was the way of things; sometimes you paid a price and never get to make another deposit into your account and eventually you are overdrawn. Lately, I’d been feeling like I was standing at the counter, the cashier always closing the window in my face.
That neatly summed up my fears about the series in general, particularly how it’d work after Mexico. If the series was going to continue in the vein of Depth of Winter, I’d have a hard time sticking around. But I’m happy to say that while the effects of Mexico linger, and will continue to be felt for some time, I’m not going anywhere. There were repeated signals throughout this novel that the status quo shouldn’t be taken for granted when it comes to any of these characters (except maybe Henry, he’ll only change when he wants to), but the same things that have been drawing readers to Walt Longmire for 15 books are still at the character’s and series’ core.
Leaving the state of the series aside, this was one of my favorite installments in the series (sure, I might be extra generous given my fears after Depth of Winter). The characters shone—it’s one of Sancho’s best outings, and Vic was just great. The story was compelling, a great mix of a drama and comedic moments, and the mystery was satisfying (maybe a little easy to suss out for the reader, but Johnson hit every beat correctly). I’m already counting the days until #16.