The Longmire Defense: A Longmire Mystery
“Craig Johnson is one of the best in the business, and the Walt Longmire series never fails to satisfy.”
Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire is back in Durant, Wyoming, recuperating from his most recent adventure and easing into active duty once again, however reluctantly. This time out, while searching for a missing hiker in the Pole Creek area, he stumbles across a hidden rifle that was involved in a cold case murder dating back to the 1940s.
He recognizes the weapon as having once belonged to his late grandfather, Lloyd Longmire. Given their rocky relationship and Walt’s inability to put the past behind him, he immediately assumes that Lloyd was responsible for the murder of Big Bill Sutherland, the former state accountant, during a hunting trip on his grandfather’s property.
As he digs deeper into the case, bullets begin to fly, state officials exert pressure on him to back off, and sketchy mercenary types emerge from the woodwork. As Walt doggedly pursues answers, he also tries to come to grips with his own past and the Longmire legacy he has inherited from those who went before him.
The Longmire Defense is Craig Johnson’s 19th installment in this terrific series, and boy howdy, is it welcome reading. The author has returned from recent experimentation in Indigenous mysticism (Daughter of the Morning Star, 2021) and Western gothic (Hell and Back, 2022)—both excellent novels in their own right—to craft a more conventional Longmire masterpiece that features Walt’s stubborn persistence to solve a crime despite all odds.
The storyline is vintage Longmire as he wades deeper and deeper into troubled waters until he finds himself taking on “high-level specialized combats vets” while armed only with “a rifle with a bent barrel and an icepick.” Unfair odds for the mercs to have to face, wouldn’t you say?
One of Johnson’s strengths lies in his ability to create memorable secondary characters, and this novel is no exception. Of particular note is Jules Beldon, the hard-drinking gravedigger, who tries to help Walt find the final resting place of Big Bill Sutherland and ends up getting shot for his trouble.
In the early going, as they catch their breath while digging up a grave that may or may not contain Big Bill, Walt tests Jules’s memory:
“Where are my parents buried?”
He smiled a sly grin and then spit. “Durant Memorial Cemetery, section C, row 36, B and C.”
“Buried on the family plot on the ridge above your grandfather’s place on Buffalo Creek.”
They trade evasive answers on their personal beliefs regarding the afterlife, and then resume digging, while Jules pulls out a flask and offers Walt a swig: “It was the worst thing I’d ever tasted in my life. ‘Embalming fluid’?”
A continuing theme in the series is Walt’s uncertainty as to whether he’ll stand for re-election next time around or just retire. There likely isn’t a Longmire fan alive who can imagine Walt without that star on his shirt, and the suspense keeps Johnson’s faithful readers on edge throughout.
How old is Walt, anyway? Has he reached retirement age? Nobody really wants to know.
Another Johnson theme, which he again brings to the surface this time out, is that good men are sometimes forced to kill bad men, and that the killing is “made easier because they were doing bad things.” A common enough theme in crime fiction, it’s something Walt must live by in his career as a law enforcement officer, and he’s surprised to realize that it might have applied to his grandfather as well, after all.
When it comes to local color mysteries, Craig Johnson is one of the best in the business, and the Walt Longmire series never fails to satisfy. The Longmire Defense proves once again that Absaroka County is the place all fervent crime fiction fans will want to be when the bullets start to fly.