Tuesday, July 22, 2008

'Another Man's Moccassins' review by guest blogger, Steve Head

If you like Tony Hillerman’s blend of murder, law enforcement, and American Indian culture you might like Craig Johnson’s new book, ‘Another Man’s Moccasins’. This is the fourth in the Sheriff Walt Longmire series set in a fictitious county in Wyoming that approximates Johnson’s current home in Ucross, Wyoming, close to Sheridan.

The latest story was the result of a casual reference in ‘The Cold Dish’, Johnson’s first Longmire novel, that caught the eye and interest of a book critic. This time Longmire is faced with a western American lawman’s nightmare, a body drop. This particular body is of a young Vietnamese girl that sends Longmire on a bitter sweet nostalgic trip to his military service in 1968, the casual reference from ‘The Cold Dish’. Following his UCLA education Walt served as a Marine Investigator assigned to Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base just outside Khe Sanh during the Tet offensive.

Although Johnson says a good part of Walt Longmire is autobiographic he was not a Marine Investigator during the Tet offensive. Instead he was doing time as an elementary school student. Research for the Vietnamese segments including reading, viewing hours of home movies of service men transferred to DVD, and a chance encounter with a western states law enforcement officer familiar with the earlier books that was ‘in country’ during Tet.

Helping Walt in his investigation is his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, often referred to as the ‘Cheyenne Nation’. Henry has his own military history that overlaps Walt’s but I’ll save that for those interested enough to read the book. Walt also has his deputies, Vic(toria) Morretti filled with colorful language and from a Philadelphia law enforcement family, Double Tough, Frymyre, Ferg, and Sancho. And let us not forget the retired Sheriff, Lucian Connally, who lost a leg during a melee with Basque ranchers. Lucian is a central character in the second novel, ‘Death Without Company’.

Walt’s daughter Cady is the other consistent character in the series and during this book she is living with Walt while recovering from a head injury sustained in Philadelphia and the third book, ‘Death Without Company’. Visiting Cady is Michael Morretti, younger brother of Deputy Vic Morretti. Only the scent of the romance between the Longmire’s and the Morretti’s from ‘Death Without Company’ makes it into the new book yet is a source of tension for the widowed Walt.

By the 290th and final page Walt has solved the mystery of the murder, the perpetrator has been punished, and all without a shot being fired by a law enforcement officer. Walt has recalled a painful part of his past, made passing references to the classics, learned of a personal military history more tortured than his own, and criss crossed the fictional Absaroka County. And the sense of humor revealed in the earlier books continues to balance the brutality that goes with murder.

A special characteristic of the Walt Longmire series is the element of what I’ll call spirituality that appears during critic points of the first three books. This spiritual element reminded me of Jim Chee and his pursuit of medicine man status in the early Hillerman books. “Another Man’s Moccasins’ does not contain as much overt spirituality as the earlier books but it is part of the underlying fabric.

As you can imagine I highly recommend any of the Craig Johnson books. The latest book made me laugh out loud just like the others, and kept me wondering right along with Walt and his crew. For those wanting to know more about Craig you can check his website at http://www.craigallenjohnson.com/. If you sign up for his Post-Its you can get a monthly message from Craig that almost always generates a chuckle.