“The Longmire Defense,” by Craig Johnson is quite the journey into the life and times of Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Fans of the Longmire series will be thrilled with Johnson’s 19th outing with Walt, Henry Standing Bear, daughter Cady and the rest of the gang.
It is May, and Walt is recovering from the effects of his adventure in 2022’s “Hell And Back.” Walt’s rest is disturbed when Vic Moretti, Walt’s undersheriff, arrives at his cabin to encourage him to get back to doing “sheriffy things” – such as helping find a clueless tourist who followed Google only to get trapped in the mountains in leftover spring snow.
While Walt does what he does best – a successful rescue – he remembers a story his father told him while hunting when he was a teen. Walt found the tourist in the area where his grandfather, Lloyd, used to have an elk hunting camp. Walt remembers that his father and grandfather were with Big Bill Sutherland and others when Bill was shot more than 70 years ago in 1948. The mystery was never solved, and it was ruled accidental. Then Walt makes a surprising discovery nearby after he looks into a pile of rocks. This makes Walt think that Bill’s death was no accident.
Readers of previous books in the series will remember that Walt had a difficult relationship with his grandfather. As a child, Walt was sometimes was left in Lloyd’s care. Although Lloyd taught him chess and other skills, they always seemed to butt heads. Fortunately, Ella One Heart, Lloyd’s housekeeper, and daughter Ruth were around to help smooth things out. In this deeply personal investigation, Walt becomes convinced that his grandfather was a killer, so Walt begins digging down the frigid trail to find the truth, little anticipating the wild results of his search.
According to Walt’s father, Bill Sutherland had returned from the war and was the Wyoming state accountant. The others included Robert Carr, the state treasurer; Harold Grafton, chief clerk of the Treasury Fund; Lloyd, who was with the Bank of Durant; and Clarence Standing Bear, Henry’s father. As word of Walt’s investigation reaches south to Cheyenne, the capital, those in power try to stop his efforts. It turns out his digging has been tied to a fund worth billions that some are trying to protect at any cost.
As Walt pursues digging into the past, readers learn a lot about his family and his relationships with them, especially his grandfather, Lloyd, and the house and ranch that he lovingly built. Walt had not returned there for more than 30 years. When he does, the memories, both good and bad flood back. In the middle of his personal and professional quest, Walt is also dealing with another quandary.
Readers are treated to Johnson’s keen and detailed rendering of landscapes and settings of the action in “The Longmire Defense.” Retuning to Durant and Absaroka County and his wonderfully crafted and complex characters is a treat. It’s like returning to a favorite vacation spot and the crew who make your visit memorable and fun. Like real life, these characters change and grow making them like old friends. Well, the good ones that is. This new book has a plot that twists and turns and keeps the action fresh and tense. “The Longmire Defense” is one of the best in the series, and the last page will bring the phrase “boy howdy” to mind making readers impatient for the next chapter in Walt’s life.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher and freelance writer.