Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: Death Without Company

Death Without Company, by Craig Johnson, is the second book in his series featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming.

First, I have to say that there seems to be a whole genre of mysteries featuring aging sheriffs in podunk places.  Walt Longmire. Bill Gastner.  Dan Rhodes.  I also have to say that I love them, though you wouldn't think that overweight, over-the-hill and often troubled old guys would make very appealing heroes.  And yet. . . they do.

Walt Longmire is no exception.  Death Without Company is the second Craig Johnson book I've read, and the series shows strong promise (I realize that I'm rather behind, and Johnson's written a whole lot more.  But I haven't read them yet).  In this book, the widowed Longmire has begun getting his life together a little more, but since the story takes up only weeks after the first (The Cold Dish) leaves off, he is definitely still working on it.

That feature of timing leads me to the first caveat: you really need to read these in order.  If it hadn't been several months since I read Cold Dish, I'd review it first, too.  But read them in order or there will be an awful lot of references and assumptions you won't get.  For some people, that's a flaw--each book should stand on its own.  I do think that these books stand on their own--but it's a close thing.  I don't really have a problem with that, since I like to read everything in order anyway.  I do also appreciate that the approach lets the author get on with the story without explaining a whole lot of stuff.

Absaroka County, Wyoming is, according to the novel, the least populated county in the US.  This makes for a fairly closed set of characters, in a sense the Western version of the English village.  Longmire's main sidekick is Henry Standing Bear, his connection to the local Native American population, pretty well completing the round of inter-connections.  About the only outsiders in the area seem to be the members of the Sheriff's department. 

When a retired sheriff insists that the death of a neighbor in the local old folks' home is not a natural death, the everyone-is-related-to-everyone-else nature of the community leads in and out of the Basque community, the local tribes, and the old sheriff's past.  Longmire has to follow the tracks, even when they lead where he'd rather not go.  In the process, he gets the snot beat out of him again (I have to wonder about the toughness factor of all these mystery heroes of all ages and genders, because they don't seem to be affected by all the beatings quite the way you and I would), and gets in some more serious flirting with various other characters.

To me, that last is the least believable aspect of the books.  Because Walt Longmire is pretty messed up, he's no beauty, not that young (not yet retirement age, but getting close), and needs to work out.  Yet in two books at least 3 women have demonstrated a significant attraction to him.  What's with that?

Aside from that bit of not-quite-reality, the story is convincing, the mystery well-developed and neither too obvious nor revealed in the end by a bit of divine inspiration or other annoying source of information we could never have.  The writing is strong and clear.  If Johnson isn't yet up to the standards of a Hillerman, he appears to have made a strong start in that direction.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Jim, I got the note, glad you thought of removing it (though I don't have so many readers that you were going to be giving away lots of extra copies!)

  3. Ha! My bad. Actually I don't mind giving away hundreds of copies - I'm just trying to get it out there. But after making the note I then realised this was the wrong place for it.

    BTW, did you get to finish BD or did you eject it?-)

  4. None of the above, Jiim! I just keep getting distracted by library books with due dates. Especially the ebooks, where I just abruptly lose access--no option to be late and take the consequences!


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