MysteryPeople Review: THE WESTERN STAR by Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest on Tuesday, September 12th, at 7 PM. We’ve followed the Longmire series from its incarnation, and we’re happy to announce Johnson’s latest is as good as any in the series! 

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

WARNING: WHILE NOT GIVING ANY SERIOUS PLOT POINTS AWAY, THIS REVIEW MAY HINT AT SOME OF THE NUANCE AND STRUCTURE THE READER MAY LIKE TO DISCOVER THEMSELVES

9780525426950Craig Johnson understands his hero, the way not every series writer does. We’ve witnessed his put-upon Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire battle depression after his wife’s death, cautiously develop a relationship with his deputy, Victoria Moretti, become a grandfather, and deal with others of life’s challenges, while rounding up the bad guys, all without a false note. This skill is fully apparent in The Western Star where a present day mystery connects to one in Walt’s past, and sets up his future.

The Western Star begins in Cheyenne with Walt and Vic getting re-certified for marksmanship (Obviously, no challenge for Vic). Lucien, the previous Absaroka County sheriff, comes along for the ride, since they are staying with Walt’s daughter and her new baby. Walt and Lucien also have another agenda. A convict has filed for compassionate release, due to a terminal illness. Wanting the man to die in prison, Walt is out to find out about the maneuverings that are making his release possible.

It all goes back to one of his first murder investigations as a deputy. Lucien took him along for a Wyoming Sheriff’s Association meeting that took place on a vintage locomotive traveling across the state, The Western Star. All that can be said without revealing any of the twists or surprises is a murder occurs, leading to a bigger picture when tied to the present.

The Western Star is the novel version of a finely crafted rocking chair – comfortable, sturdy and straight forward, in a way that proves deceptive. It contains a nod or two to Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express and gives that classic a run for its money. Johnson uses seventies references sparingly, yet in an entertaining fashion, so there’s no show-boating in his research. There are plenty of facts that need to be played close to the vest and Craig deals them out at the perfect plot point in a way that is never contrived.

Much of this can be credited to Craig Johnson’s understanding of Walt. Not only does he know Walt, he realizes that after a dozen novels, two novellas, and a short story every Christmas, we have gotten to know him well. He uses it as suspense in the present, given our understanding that our lawman is more interested in justice than punishment, keeping us locked in as we race to discover why he wants to make sure the person dies in prison. With the story on the train, he captures Walt’s hesitancy in emotional manners, less tempered by age, and demonstrates how he started out with the investigative chops we know today, but with a lack of focus he will attain later on.`

It is this understanding of Walt and those around him that make the book work and allow the series to move in a new direction. He picks perfect and believable points to have play against character (try picturing cantankerous Lucien with a baby before reading) and understands the still waters that run dark and deep within them. With The Western Star, Walt’s present and past dovetail beautifully into a satisfying conclusion that sets our hero up for a journey that will define him for books to come.

You can find copies of The Western Star on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Craig Johnson comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest on Tuesday, September 12th, at 7 PM.

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