In my mind, Craig Johnson and Tony Hillerman are equals. The plots, the humor, the touch, the Western landscapes, the intelligence, the fascinating interactions across cultural boundaries. It’s easy to imagine Joe Leaphorn and Walt Longmire swapping stories. It’s equally easy to imagine Jim Chee and Henry Standing Bear at the same table too, ready with their own take. Native American spirituality, for instance, discuss!
You know Longmire and Leaphorn (check the similarities in those names) would get along, though between the two I think Longmire would likely be more open to the general idea. Leaphorn was always a bit more suspect of everyone; Longmire seems willing to expand his database of contacts.
Johnson has infused Walt Longmire with qualities that are so easy to like. Longmire, in Johnson’s own words, is “courageous, quiet, humble and kind.” No Clint Eastwood snarls here. In fact, if anything, Longmire approaches situations open to every possibility, including the remote chance he’s been wrong all along.
I’ve been reading lately about leadership and more recently attended a convention with the “leadership” theme, too. If we all knew the elusive mix of human traits and character qualities that make for good leaders—and if those “things” could be taught as easily as teaching how to do long division—the schools offering those courses would no doubt be packed.
No matter what the literature says, Longmire seems like a model to me, but it’s nothing he’s learned in school. His Vietnam experiences might have framed him, but he doesn’t drag it around with him like, say, David Robicheaux. No cliché drinking demons. No brooding allowed. His wife may have died and you can feel the weight of it, but Longmire doesn’t let it pull him down, either. Longmire still hopes for the best from everyone. He’s endlessly empathetic, doesn’t try to change the sharp-tongued Vic, appreciates the pipeline of information and insight that is Henry Standing Bear, a.k.a the Cheyenne Nation.
Walt Longmire is quiet cool. He’s just what the textbooks recommend—see the information about what Jim Collins calls “Level 5 Leadership” in Good to Great. The definition is someone who blends genuine personal humility with intense profession will. It’s not the show horses that run or transform the best organizations, the theory goes, it’s the plow horses. Only Longmire isn’t trying to change anything–the people, the landscape and his sheriff’s department are all accepted as is.
Walt Longmire wears nothing on his sleeve, keeps his smarts and his Faulkner references to himself. He doesn’t judge those around him, he embraces them and all their quirks. Longmire’s leadership traits are in his bones—integrity, dedication, fairness, assertiveness and creativity. He’s magnanimous, doesn’t let petty junk drag him down.
All these character strengths (but aren’t leading characters supposed to have flaws?) come together quite well in As the Crow Flies, particularly as Longmire is forced to collaborate with a Northern Cheyenne Reservation tribal police chief, the intriguing Lolo Long, who soon falls under Longmire’s quiet spell and learns touch, subtlety and quiet strategy from the wily veteran.
The mystery itself starts with a woman falling to death from a cliff—a death Longmire and Henry Standing Bear witness as they check out a possible outdoor location for his daughter’s wedding. Yes, Walt Longmire the wedding planner if you didn’t already know he had a soft side. The plot is nifty, the use of the crow imagery clever, not over done.
It works. Others have complained that As the Crow Flies takes Longmire too far away from his home base of characters. I disagree. Like the mighty Hell is Empty before it, As the Crow Flies finds Walt Longmire exploring new turf, developing new relationships, finding new ways to find himself, testing himself and his appreciation and willingness to accept mysticism (a strong theme for Joe Leaphorn, too).
Even with all the years under his belt, Walt Longmire looks out through his 10-year-old Ray Bans and sees new possibilities and, in As the Crow Flies, takes peyote and produces one of the story’s most colorful scenes.
There was a gentle, grounded spirit to Hillerman’s best work. “I try to make my books reflect humanity as I see it,” Hillerman once said.
It’s just a hunch but I bet Craig Johnson would agree.
PS: The A&E television series “Longmire” is watchable as television goes. I just wish the writers had managed to incorporate one-tenth of the character depth that Craig Johnson manages in the written word. Don’t let the television series deter you from diving into a terrific mystery series.