Saturday, September 09, 2017

The Western Star by Craig Johnson

Readers and fans of Craig Johnson's Longmire series - here's your warning. I started Johnson's The Western Star on my lunch hour one day. I read for half an hour, spent more than an hour talking to my mother that night, and, yet, I had to stay up and finish the book. Way too late. I had book hangover the next day. Darn you, Craig. In other words, The Western Star is a compelling story. It's a look back at a young Walt Longmire in a tribute to Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. But, don't worry. If you're familiar with the story, it doesn't have the expected ending. Instead, Johnson puts his own twist to the plot. Darn you, Craig Johnson.

There are two storylines. Longmire is in Cheyenne. Every four years he shows up for a parole hearing. He doesn't tell others why he's determined to keep the dangerous man behind bars. This time, there's powerful opposition. But, he also renews his weapons certification. Afterwards, a young sheriff asks about the picture on the wall. It's a picture from 1972, a group of lawmen in front of The Western Star, known as the sheriffs' train. There are twenty-five armed men in cowboy hats, twenty-four sheriffs and one deputy.

From 1948 to 1972, The Western Star made an annual trek, crossing the state with all Wyoming's sheriffs on board, the Wyoming Sheriffs' Association. The sheriffs can bring a guest, and Lucian Connolly, the sheriff of Absaroka County, brings his new deputy, a young Walt Longmire. Walt is back from Vietnam, married, and just before boarding he has a fight with his young wife, Martha. One of the sheriffs notices, and asks Walt to meet with him. He has suspicions that one or more of the sheriffs on the train have taken justice into their own hands. He can trust a stranger, a new deputy.

Intrigued? I can't reveal more about the book. I could tell you someone is killed. That death, the actions leading up to it, and the subsequent investigation haunt Longmire. He never tells his daughter, just as he never tells her why he wants the prisoner to remain in prison for his entire life. But, the storylines collide in an unexpected way, skillfully linked as only Craig Johnson can do.

The Western Star brings together so many of the traits that readers will recognize in Craig Johnson's writing. Just as in the early books, Martha haunts the story, even when she isn't present. Johnson introduces wonderful characters, but he brings back ones we're fond of. We get to see a much younger Walt, a younger Lucian Connolly. Henry Standing Bear was Longmire's best friend in 1972, as he is now. Vic is part of the current storyline, as is Walt's daughter and granddaughter.

Then there's Johnson's use of language and turn of phrase. Here's just one sentence from a scene in 1972 when Walt and Martha parted, and Henry drove off with her. "The Cheyenne Nation slipped the big bird down into gear, pulled through the open chain-link fence onto Front Street, and drove my heart away."

I could have given you a little more about the story. But, why? It's a riveting story with surprise twists. It's Craig Johnson's writing and characters. If it made me stay up to read it, I'm going to do the same to you. Read The Western Star and savor Walt's story, Johnson's writing. And, when you get to those last paragraphs, I'm going to bet you'll say, "Darn you, Craig Johnson."

Craig Johnson's website is

The Western Star by Craig Johnson. Viking. 2017. ISBN 9780525426950 (hardcover), 295p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Sounds great. Can't wait to read it.

Lesa said...

Can't wait to see your reaction, Jeff. I know it will be a while, though, with your enormous TBR pile.

Charlotte said...

Lesa, you did it again. Since you wrote another great review I have to add this book to my l o n g book list. Like I said earlier I have never read any of his books before. Love the TV series taken from his books. Jeff said the new show starts September 23 I will be binging out for awhile.

Lesa said...

Charlotte, If you want to try Craig's writing without picking up one of the lengthier books, you might want to try his novella, Spirit ofSteamboat. I loved that one.I've read it several times.

Charlotte said...

Lesa, thank you for the suggestion about the novella. I checked with Overdrive and they have it. Of course it is not available at this time. I put a hold on it. Now it is a waiting game.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Charlotte.

Gram said...

Spirit of Steamboat it is. I put it on hold. I just took out The Highwayman and discovered I had read it before - but will read it again. The Western Star is now added to my list.

Lesa said...

Oh, I liked The Highwayman, too.

Kaye Barley said...

What a terrific review! Cannot wait to read this one

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kaye!