This month marks the tenth anniversary of Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish being published. For the last ten years (little over three years in his fictional lifespan with each book representing a season in his life), Walt Longmire, Wyoming sheriff, has appeared in ten books, two novellas, and inspired a television show that even the stupidity of programming executives couldn’t kill. It is interesting that such a traditional, even old fashioned, character becomes one of the more popular heroes for the beginning of the new millennium.
The tension between old and new is what creates much of the drama in the series. Walt may be an old fashioned lawman but many of the crimes, like human trafficking, are not. Those wide open Wyoming spaces have allowed outlaws to practice with little interference until Walt catches wind. When hunting down killers and criminals, very few of his techniques are modern. No CSI, no SWAT, not even a cell phone. Just doggedness and a knowledge of his place, especially its people.
Community is what defines Walt Longmire as a hero. Few authors have dealt with the relationship between a lawman and the society he serves like Craig Johnson has, particularly in the first five books. These five cover an election Walt is running in, yet wondering if he still wants. It helps to set up the political nature of his job. His main skill is knowing who to call upon for assistance. We see it completely at work in Kindness Goes Unpunished, where he is stuck in Philadelphia and has to build a group of allies from the ground up.
The idea of an old school hero also plays into the tension of how Walt taps into the best of western tradition to correct its sins. The fifth book, The Dark Horse, was initially titled “Horses And Women”, a fragment of the western saying “This land is paradise for men and dogs, hell for horses and women.”In it Walt goes to another Wyoming town to help clear a woman charged with murdering her husband. The town seems convinced of her guilt not only because of the frame up, but because she is a woman who stands out.
The responsibility of the present to make up for the past is often seen in Walt’s dealing with American Indians. Walt’s relationship with the American Indian past and present is closely examined with his friendship with chief (no pun intended) ally, Henry Standing Bear. Oddly enough, it is also the source of much of the humor the books’ humor. Walt is both buffer and bridge between his jurisdiction of Absoroka County and the Cheyenne reservation. It’s perfectly fitting that when he’s alone, in desperate straits, a vision of an Indian often helps him. The vision may also be telling him, he’s also more spiritually aware than he realizes.
Craig Johnson has created a man of cohesive paradoxes that we’ve watched play out and with one another. He’s a reclusive man who is saved by his community as much as he has saved it. It is something deals with more as each turn of the earth brings in a new season in his life. Most of all he embodies the the need of his community and its institutions to be strong for individuality to survive and thrive. Here’s to many more years of Walt being able to protect and serve.
You can find all the volumes of Craig Johnson’s Longmire Series on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.