“Any Other Name”
By Craig Johnson
I don’t like the Walt Longmire novels.
I think they’re trite, trope-addled and riddled with oily, overly glib dialogue. I don’t like the way they treat the culture, history and mythology of the West like trinkety fetish porn for tourists.
I particularly don’t like Walt Longmire, who’s little more than a mashup of fast-food literary cliches, down to the dead wife, the Indian sidekick, the pseudo-mystic spiritual wanderings and the hat.
To me, the experience of reading Craig Johnson’s books feels like sweating out a forced five-hour stop in Wall Drug.
That said, I’ve read most of them. And on their own merits, they’re all pretty good.
Roger Ebert’s guideline to good art criticism was: “It is not what it is about, but how it is about it.” And “Any Other Name,” like the previous eight volumes in the Longmire series, goes about its business in polished, nimbly paced, reader-pleasing fashion.
The series is popular for a reason, and, if I’m being honest, the reason is that it’s fun and it delivers a cheerfully predictable, thoroughly professional comfort-food reading experience. So much so that, but for the occasional profanity or gruesome death, the books really ought to be shelved with the cooking, catering and crocheting murder tales in the cozy-mystery section of the bookstore. (The first-rate TV series “Longmire” is much darker than the books.)
In “Any Other Name,” Walt Longmire heads east out of Absaroka County with his predecessor as sheriff, Lucian Connelly, to look into the supposed suicide of a former detective. But most suicide victims aren’t found with two gunshot wounds to the head, so Walt, with deputy/girlfriend Vic Moretti and best friend Henry Standing Bear occasionally in tow, knocks around locals and kicks over stones until he uncovers a plot to kidnap and sell young women into slavery.
Along the way, Walt has one of his magic-realist interludes, in the form of white bison and the ghostly residents of a rundown resort lodge, and he learns that Tomas Bidarté, the villain of “A Serpent’s Tooth” — Longmire No. 8 — may still be around and planning fresh havoc. Events build up to a frantic effort to save a damsel in distress from death aboard a coal train in the subzero cold of wintertime Wyoming.
If you’re a Longmire fan, nothing in “Any Other Name” is likely to disappoint you. The series formula fires on all cylinders here, fueled by a steady flow of chases, reversals, surprises and dry witticisms in endless supply.
What Johnson achieves here isn’t anywhere as easy as it looks, and he deserves credit for knowing how to create an audience and how to keep it happy. Just like they do in Wall Drug.