- - Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I first became acquainted with Craig Johnson’s fictional modern-day Western sheriff by watching the A&E TV series “Longmire,” which is based on Mr. Johnson’s novels. (The show is now on Netflix).

Australian actor Robert Taylor portrayed Walt Longmire and Katee Sackhoff portrayed his deputy, Victoria “Vic” Moretti, a transplanted South Philly Italian-American and former Philadelphia cop. Lou Diamond Phillips portrayed Henry Standing Bear, Longmire’s best friend, and the series also offered a good number of other fine cast members.

I liked the Walt Longmire character, a big man who is tough, taciturn, intelligent, fair, and possesses a dry sense of humor. I also liked the rural crime stories, so I began reading the series of novels.

In his last outing in the novel “Depth of Winter,” Walt Longmire, the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, headed to Mexico to take on Tomas Bidarte, the head of a vicious drug cartel, who had kidnapped the sheriff’s daughter. He rescued her and killed the drug lord in a brutal fight, which left the sheriff’s body, as well as his mind, scarred.

In “Land of Wolves” we find a thinner, weaker and more reticent sheriff, who loses himself in moments of staring off into space. But the hanged body of a migrant Chilean shepherd, Miquel Hernandez, which may be a case of suicide or murder, moves the sheriff and his deputies to investigate.

Complicating the case is the fact that the hanged man worked for Abarrane Extepare, the head of a wealthy Basque family, who had been in prison for shooting off the leg of Walt Longmire’s predecessor. The rugged, elderly rancher is holding his grandson when he is interviewed by Walt Longmire. The grandfather is estranged from the boys’ mother and father, his daughter and son-in-law, and this family drama factors into the case.

Also complicating the case is Miquel Hernandez’s feet appeared to have been chewed on by an old, gray and oversized wolf that Walt Longmire had seen earlier in the Big Horn Mountains, where wolves had not been seen in some years.

“When you see a wolf, you can’t help feeling impressed,” Walt Longmire, the novel’s narrator tells us. “Maybe it’s because we’re so used to being around their more domesticated cousins, but this animal is something else. Aside from all the crap that you see on TV and in the movies or even in badly written books, they’re not the slathering beasts just outside the glow of the campfire; there’s only one word that comes to mind when I’ve ever seen one in the wild: empathic.

“It’s like they’re reading your mind, because they have to know what you’re thinking to simply survive.”

Walt Longmire goes on to note that once an ancient nomadic hunter tossed a greasy leg of caribou to a curious pair of eyes, he set off a chain reaction of genetic mutation of over 800.000 years that bred a partner for mankind, and an entirely different branch of canine was born.

“For the sacrifice of their freedom came security and their role as guard and companion,” Walt Longmore explained. “That was not the animal I was looking at now.”

The townspeople of Durant, the county seat of Absaroka, are frightened due to the sighting of the wolf and demand a wolf hunt. Walt Longmire is not only convinced that the shepherd did not hang himself, he is also convinced that the wolf is not a threat.

Also attempting to save the wolf is Keasik Cheechoo, a nurse and volunteer for the wolf conservancy. The woman is aggressive and demanding and both helps and hinders Walt Longmire as he investigates the case.  

The novel features the regular cast of Walt Longmire’s world, such as Vic, his love interest, and his blunt and profane undersheriff; his Indian friend Henry Standing Bear; his dedicated and long-suffering receptionist, Ruby; his deputy, Sancho; and his daughter, Cady, who is also recovering from their Mexican adventure.   

Like the other novels in the series, Walt Longmire, a well-read man, offers in his narration a running commentary that notes geographical, literary and historical facts that pertain to the story.

The novel also offers abundant humor in the interplay and dialogue between Walt Longmire and Vic Moretti, as well as Ruby’s comedic attempts to get the sheriff to use his new computer, so she won’t have to print out his emails and respond to the emails by typing the sheriff’s hand-written notes on the printed-out email. The sheriff, who does not own or carry a cell phone, is not technically proficient and does not want to be.

“Land of Wolves” is an interesting and well-written crime and mystery novel that fans of Walt Longmire, as well as new readers, will enjoy.     

• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism. 

• • •


By Craig Johnson

Viking, $28, 336 pages

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