I’ve been unfortunately slow to come to Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series — unfortunate for me, because Johnson’s books are both charming and exciting, edgily so in the latter case. Johnson’s mix of humor and high-stakes action is apparent from the start of Junkyard Dogs, the sixth novel in the series, which begins with the story of a seventy-two-year-old man who’s been dragged by rope behind an Oldsmobile for two-and-a-quarter miles (he waved at familiar faces along the way) and continues on with some pressing and potentially related questions: How did this happen? Why is there a thumb in a cooler back in junkyard the he owns? And what’s down in the cellar that no one in the family wants anyone to see? As elsewhere in the series, the inhabitants of Durant, Wyoming miss no opportunity for adventure and intrigue and Durant itself provides a rich backdrop against which everything unfolds: a harsh winter this time out, a battle over real estate development brewing, and romance crossing some clearly drawn class lines.
Throughout it all, Sheriff Longmire’s narration offers both wit and wisdom and some wry, if more laconic, insights on himself, especially as he endures seemingly endless injuries and mishaps. His deputies, Victoria Moretti and Santiago Saizarbitoria, aren’t just supporting cast members but full-fledged characters in their own right and with their own dramas. In this novel, Vic is trying to find her way (and maybe find herself) as she navigates both a personal and professional relationship with her boss within the context of buying a house, and The Basquo (as Santiago is called) struggles to figure out an array of sudden fears, stemming both from new fatherhood and from recent job dangers that cut, literally, too close to home.
Johnson will be reading from Junkyard Dogs at two locations in the Triangle this week: on Friday evening, June 4, at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, and then on Saturday morning, June 5, at McIntyre’s Fine Books in Fearrington Village. In advance of those appearances, Johnson took a moment to answer a few questions here.
Art Taylor: A fair amount of critical work has focused on the hard-boiled mystery novel emerging from the classic western — just a hop, skip and a jump from the lone cowboy on the prairie to the loner detective walking his mean streets. In Walt Longmire, you’ve got a character who’s both a cowboy figure and a detective. Do you see him as a continuation of those archetypal figure or as a break in tradition?
Craig Johnson: Probably a break; I’ve never thought of Walt as a “lone-wolf” type of character because to be honest I find those kinds of characters to be sort of boring these days—hasn’t that stuff been done to death? The reason I made Walt a sheriff is because I wanted him to be emblematic of a community and stand for something instead of in opposition to it. Of course with that kind of writing you have to realize that there’s going to be a lot of baggage with both a detective story and a western, but I think that’s where the humor comes in handy for not only pointing up those connections but poking a little fun at them as well. My readers are like cheap dates; they don’t mind being taken advantage of as long as they’re aware of it.
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