Some books nail the character so well you can’t get enough. It’s the mood. You know precisely the sensations author will produce. Visceral sensations. It’s like returning to your favorite cabin in the woods. If you put the reading the chair in just the right place, the sunshine on the back porch will hit you just so.
I enjoyed Craig Johnson’s “Hell Is Empty” so much I had to back up a step to “Junkyard Dogs.” I was not disappointed.
“Junkyard Dogs” is a smile waiting to happen.
Walt Longmire is a quintessential combo pack of love and cynicism, toughness and tenderness. Walt is bewildered yet doesn’t judge. He views his crew with head-scratching pleasure and mild amusement. He’s a sheriff with a real-world understanding of the endless variety of human beings that could run through his life and run through Absaroka County and, well, ruin his day. He doesn’t really want to change anything or anybody, just keep order.
The world Johnson has created seems only marginally impacted by civilization’s alleged progress. The cars are old, the town is, um, well-preserved. What’s on the menu at the Busy Bee Café won’t cause sleeplessness for Tom Colicchio. The crime-solving methods don’t need CSI. Walt Longmire is as cool as Clint Eastwood in an old spaghetti western but more prone to apply brainpower than yank out his .45.
Longmire keeps his world view to himself, treats his staff as equals and marvels at their peculiarities. Enjoys their peculiarities. They are human beings and he’s one, too. I could quote a few lines here or a few lines there, but the Walt Longmire experience emerges over time in the welcoming space that exists between Walt and his town—the doctors, the dimwits, the bartenders, the lowlifes and animals too. We learn Longmire’s view of the world through the slow accumulation of brisk, punchy observations and the way he engages the world. Johnson is right there with Tony Hillerman. Like Hillerman, there is mystery but the suspense-fear-factor needle is well below the speed limit. In my mind, this makes for readability.
(OK, I’ll quote a couple of lines.)
A chapter starter:
“It was a two-gallon Styrofoam cooler—one of the cheap ones that you can pick up at any service station in the summer season and then listen to it squeak to the point of homicidal dementia.”
“The sarcasm in his reply was wader deep.”
“There was a five-inch layer of snow on the swings that silently shifted in the slight wind, and I tried to think of something more depressing than empty playgrounds in the middle of winter but couldn’t come up with anything.”
“Junkyard Dogs” involves developers, “a little 4-H project” and mutts of all kinds, human and canine. Some are “wagging companions,” some snarl. Running undercurrents involve Sheriff Longmire’s physical ailments (especially of the ocular variety) and a low-simmering dispute with the foul-mouthed Vic, Longmire’s deputy and source of “smoldering attraction that had bloomed into a stoked furnace,” over buying real estate. Johnson weaves in sub-plots with subtlety and effortlessness.
Take a spin in Absaroka County. You’re going to want to hunker down and hang out.