Saturday, February 7, 2015

Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson
Viking Adult 2010

Reviewed by carol
★    ★    ★    ★

The sixth book in the series featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire is a lot of fun, and brings life back into the Longmire series. It has to be hard being a mystery writer, immersing your characters in the dark side of human nature.  Junkyard Dogs goes back to the roots of the Longmire mysteries by focusing on the characters in small town in Wyoming, bringing their quirks and lifestyles to life. 

The story begins with a strong hook:

I tried to get a straight answer from his grandson and granddaughter-in-law as to why their grandfather had been tied with a hundred feet of nylon rope to the rear bumper of the 1968 Oldsmobile Toronado.

We begin with the misadventures of the Stewart clan, managers of the Municipal Solid Waste facility, aka Town Dump. As Walt is sorting through their latest mishap that ends at the emergency room, Doc discovers one of the Stewarts recently found a finger at the dump. Meanwhile Santiago Saizarbitoria, one of Walt’s deputies, is considering quitting after events in the prior book. Walt decides the missing appendage is the perfect way to ease Santiago back into action while giving him time to reconsider. As Walt gives a hand (har, har) to the Stewart clan, he discovers old man Geo is having a secret romance, and when tempers flare at the junkyard, Walt’s sure it is because the secret is out. It isn’t, but it won’t be long before it is.

The characterization brings a much-needed humor back to the series. I actually laughed out loud in chapter one, because the situation was so absurd–and yet plausible the way it developed, bad decision by bad decision. While amusing, the characters remained quite human, with their own logic, seriousness and tragedy in their lives that took them beyond mere comedic appearances (I’m looking at you, Stephanie Plum, Mooner and Sally Sweet).  I wish the same could be said of the relationship between Vic and Walt. Although tension between them continues to simmer, at this point it feels more forced, neither progressing organically nor cooling off. Flirtation between them often feels more awkward than entertaining, with the exception of some delightful police banter that’s prelude to an illegal but informative search. Luckily, those occasions aren’t the primary focus of Walt’s life right now, so it didn’t distract overmuch. Despite the comedy, Johnson still manages a respectful balance of character:

There was an Indian air about Geo, or maybe it was a mountain man quality. Some people live on the high plains because they can’t live anywhere else, their antennae fixed to a frequency that is preset to offense. Once in a long while they venture into town and drink and argue too much. Like fine instruments of delicate temperament rarely played, they become untuned and discordant.

Plotting is interesting. It’s a methodical pace with the beginning of the story focused more on character build and day-to-day policing, but eventually all the pieces come together and the action rockets forward. The ending felt a bit contrived and done to a Hollywood scale that didn’t quite match the Andy Griffith down-home beginning.  A final nod to the quality of the setting, which gives a hint of what those fierce mountain winters must be like.

Overall, enjoyable and a solid entry into the Longmire canon that’s renewed my inspiration to continue the series.

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