Monday, November 22, 2010

Death Without Company by Craig Johnson

If Jen Forbus has her way, Craig Johnson would receive the recognition he deserves.  No one is a bigger fan than she is.  I'm glad, because she introduced me to his wonderful books.  And, she's right.  He's not as well-known as he should be.  I've only read the first two books in his Walt Longmire series, but they're beautifully written mysteries, with fascinating characters.  I loved Johnson's comment in this second book, Death Without Company.  "It's a character-driven piece."  It certainly is.  If you read mysteries for the characters, as I do, you should be reading Craig Johnson's books.

Walt Longmire has been the sheriff in Absaroka County, Wyoming for almost twenty-five years.  And, his day-to-day job consists of recruiting jurors for a jury pool, handling traffic accidents in the snow, and trying to hang on to competent deputies.  But, once in a while, he gets a case that is so complicated that his entire team, along with his friends, family, and even his dog, called Dog, become involved. 

Lucian Connally was the sheriff who hired Longmire, fresh from a stint as a military cop in Vietnam.  The two men might have different styles, but Walt still respects Lucian's opinion.  So, when Lucian insists that Mari Baroja, a fellow resident at the Durant Home for Assisted Living was murdered, Longmire is willing to look into it.  But, then Lucian shocks Walt by saying he was once married to Mari, until her Basquo father and uncles annulled the marriage.  Lucian's stories of Mari and her family drag Longmire's team into an investigation that immediately turns violent, as someone tries to kill everyone who knows the past history of Mari Baroja.  However, does anyone actually know the whole truth?

In the Walt Longmire series, Craig Johnson has created a cast of characters with depth and personality, beginning with Walt and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear.  But, every one of Johnson's characters are individuals who demand attention, from those who are a permanent part of his team, such as his deputy, Vic Moretti, and Ruby, who runs the office.  The newest deputy, Santiago Saizarbitoria, immediately fits in, with an enormous personality.  Unlike so many other authors, though, Johnson pays attention close attention to minor characters, who live on his pages. 

The investigation is the most important part of the story, as it should be in a police procedural, but these books are so much more.  Johnson has a way with a phrase.  Ruby keeps messages for Longmire on Post-it notes, and turns them over when he comes into the office.  He says he, "Picked up my life in Post-it form."  There's humor in these stories, and it can be very dry, as fits people who have lived difficult lives.  Death Without Company has an intriguing, complicated storyline with surprises, wonderful characters, and beautiful writing.  These mysteries are for anyone who misses Tony Hillerman, or wants to read outstanding crime novels set in the West.  And, Death Without Company is definitely for anyone who wants to read a "Character-driven piece."

Craig Johnson's website is

Death Without Company by Craig Johnson.  Penguin Group (USA), ©2006. ISBN 9780670034673 (hardcover), 288p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library Book


Naomi Johnson said...

Jen got me hooked on these books, too. I can't thank her - or the author - enough.

Lesa said...

She does a good job pushing Craig Johnson, doesn't she, Naomi? I'm picking up the third in the series today.

Jen Forbus said...

Yay! Lesa, the third is my favorite still. I love them all, but this one is so, so, so personal to Walt, I couldn't help but simply melt away into it.

What was really spooky to me with DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY was the fact that after reading THE COLD DISH, I said I'd like to see more of Lucien...and then bam, he's the center of this book. Lucien cracks me up. Later in the series, he'll steal your heart! :-)

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I love the idea of the dry humor and the depth of the characters in this series. I'll put them on my TBR list!

Lesa said...

I wondered which one was your favorite, Jen. You told me once you had a favorite, but didn't say which one.

I'm looking forward to more of Lucian, and the rest of the series! I already picked the third up to take home today.

Lesa said...


I hope you fall into this series as easily as Naomi and I did after Jen kept talking it up.

Inside A Book said...

Great review....and he's even funnier and spot on in person!! He was at the Tucson Book Festival in March and I listened as he participated in a terrific, albeit small, panel. We then went and heard him again at the Poisoned Pen and loved our evening there. He is one uncovered gem.

Thanks for a great review.

Lesa said...

Oh, that's funny, Inside a Book. I saw him at Tucson, but he was by himself at that time. And, then I went to hear him at PP. So, you and I were there at the same time.

Well, I've only read two of the books, but I picked up the third today, and talked someone into taking the first one.

And, you're right. Craig Johnson is even better in person.

kathy d. said...

I think you've won me over. Jen gave me a nudge and you're opening the door, so when I have time (ah, the TBR pile, the TBR lists, the TBpurchased lists), i.e., someday I will read one of these books and see what you both are raving about.

Lesa said...

Ah, all of those TBR places. I have TBR rooms, kathy. Consider yourself lucky.