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CRIMES OF THE PAST AND CHOICES FOR THE FUTURE: THE LONGMIRE DEFENSE BY CRAIG JOHNSON


It's no surprise that Craig Johnson often deals with time in his Walt Longmire series. Melding the mystery and western, where the hero must delve into the past for answers in one and must often deal with change in another as well as writing for a lead who has more years behind him than ahead, it would be hard to avoid. In The Longmire Defense, his Northern Wyoming sheriff has past, present, and future colliding toward one another with him in the the middle.


The story takes its cues from the John Sayles film Lone Star. While looking for a lost tourist, Walt finds a hidden custom .300 H&H Magnum rifle. He realizes it could be connected to the murder of a the state treasurer, killed on an elk hunting trip in 1947. Many of the others on that trip were part of the town bank that started a fund. Two of the partners soon met untimely fates afterward. The person who Walt puts at the top of the suspect list is a man he held in contempt for until his death, Lloyd Longmire, his grandfather.


Craig uses the Sayles movie as a foundation to build something bigger on as Walt's mystery from the past turns into a political thriller in the present. An attempt on the life of a cemetery caretaker helping with Walt's decades old killing is shot as well as a state archivists house being burned down. Some folks involved in a state mineral fund tied to the old one the treasurer was was murdered over are concerned about where Walt is poking around, He soon has to contend with way too many from the state capitol telling him to trust them as well as a Russian assassin introduced to Walt and us in a chilling manner. That tourist turns out to be a handful too,


The story also creates subplots that Walt has to contend with. The upcoming election has him wondering if he'll stand again and which of his deputies he'll stand with if he doesn't. His relationship with Basque deputy Saizarbitoria becomes rocky, especially after he gets a job offer from one of the agents of the state.. And even with all the murder, mystery, and politics, the biggest piece of suspense is the way we are baited for the answer from his undersheriff Vic Morerretti to Walt's proposal.


Chess becomes a recurring motif in the book. It plays into the situations Walt finds himself in, where thought and strategy need to be applied to seen and unseen adversaries. Walt becomes a knight on a board of petty kings and their pawns, taking in their past moves to make that current step in creating a future outcome. They are moves that have to be deliberate and done with clarity, virtues our hero has always carried.


On the surface, The Longmire Defense works as a page-turner with murders from the past and attempted ones in the present tied to an even bigger crime that many believe to be above the sheriff's pay grade, delivering the expected suspense, reversals, and reveals with a craftsman's clarity. Of course Craig Johnson always goes deeper, looking at how we, especially those of us who have put a lot of time in, deal with life and accept what life tosses at us. With Walt Longmire, today needs to be faced, the future is unclear but oming, and that past is always waiting for us.


-review by Scott Montgomery


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