Book Review: Spirit of Steamboat

Title: Spirit of Steamboat: A Walt Longmire Story
Author: Craig Johnson
Published: 2013
Format: Hardback

Longtime followers of the blog may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. I’m a little ashamed to say that the reason I haven’t posted is that I haven’t *read* in a while. No, really. I haven’t read a book in something like nine months, and I haven’t written more than 3k since December.
And I’ve been itching to, I really have, but life has gotten in the way and I just haven’t managed a book that has held my interest into chapter two.
So, one Friday, I got off early from work (woot!) and decided to take myself on the best kind of date – the library. So I started in adult fiction and I walked the stacks slowly, running my hands down the books, touching the spines, picking stuff up and putting it back down. I took the aisles out of order, coming in in the middle, heading back and forth, dismayed at the fact that they were actually taking shelves out of my library because of a lack of books on them.
That has something to do with this book, I promise.
So anyway, the first row I went down was H-J, and this was one of the first books I touched. I liked that it was small, novella-ish. I had decided that if nothing could hold my attention that a smaller book had a better chance. The dark, teal green of the cover stood out amidst a sea of much more boring black and white and uninspiring.
Until I turned to the front cover, I hadn’t realized that it had anything to do with the TV show – a plethora (okay, two, but they’re big and the book is small) of library stickers covered up half the spine. And I haven’t watched the TV show, so I read the first paragraph of the flap and decided that I could read this without knowing that.
So in the story, Sherriff Longmire is reading Dickens on Christmas Eve (because that is the most overdone Christmas trope ever in books), and somebody shows up in his office that he’s sure he’s never seen before but is adamant that she needs to see the old sheriff and that she knows them all.
So Walt takes her to the old guy and she starts her tale of how they know her, which is pretty much the rest of the book.  [NOTE:  This story takes place at Christmas, but it is most certainly not a Christmas story.]

So, because this was the first piece of fiction that I have held attention to in *nine months* I really wanted to give this book a full five page rating, but I just can’t.
For starters, the book is shelved as a mystery – there’s a sticker from the library that says it and everything – and really the only mystery in the whole thing is who the chick is and we figure that out pretty quick. Even the acknowledgement page says that this is a “weird little book that was supposed to be a short story… and is not a mystery per say, but a thriller with mysterious elements.” And while I’m not necessarily taking off points for expecting a mystery, that’s mostly because the author told me that on the very first page.
Second of all, there was a bit of an issue with the present day/flash back thing. Like when the flashback was over, the story pretty much was, too…there was nothing at all to wrap it up at the end. So either he could have just told the story of the rescue and not flashed back or he could have put a little more meat on the story. I felt that *all* the present day stuff was rushed to get to the 1988 flight.
That said, the 1988 flight part was *fabulous* I could just about feel the snow and having come from somewhere that got blizzards, just reading about it made me cold. That’s a sign of a good author. There was the right amount of suspense and detail, the right balance of slang and explaining things for the reader, and I didn’t feel out of place trying to read about pilots and doctors and whatever else.
And the old Asian woman in the story isn’t a bad stereotype. She’s written as kind and sympathetic.

So, there are a few things that needed help, which I think are an unfortunate product of this starting as a really short story and ending up at this length, but with a little tweaking this story could be perfect.
I loved the author’s writing style, and as such have another book of his waiting for me to pick it up at the library as I type this.
I will give this book a very sold – and very happy – 4 out of 5 pages.

Book Review: Walt Longmire Mysteries #1-3 by Craig Johnson

Title:   The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire #1)

Death Without Company (Walt Longmire #2)

Kindness Goes Unpunished (Walt Longmire #3)

Author: Craig Johnson

Format: Electronic (Kindle)

Published: 2005-2007

 

When May Sweeps was over, my valiant partner and I combed through Netflix for bingewatching material and found Season 1 of A&E’s Longmire ready and waiting.   It wasn’t until the tenth and final episode that I caught the “Based on the novel…” credit flashing over the beginning action.    I immediately ran to the library website and downloaded the first three books, eager to immerse myself in the Wyoming sheriff’s adventures.    I had enjoyed the show immensely and couldn’t wait to “read more about it” (as they used to say at the end of Afterschool Specials.)

 

I have  good news and I have bad news.   Let’s start with the good, shall we?

These books are very, very good.  That in and of itself is nice to know, seeing as there are thus far nine in the series.   The first book–The Cold Dish–has a few pacing issues as Johnson tries to set up his world and characters but once you learn your way around you really don’t want to leave fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming.

There’s more good news to come, but I think this is a good time to pop in with the bad news.

If you go to these books because you really like the A&E show and want that Walt  and Henry  and Vic and Branch and Ruby…oops.  Sorry.  About the only thing these novels have in common with the TV show are the names of some characters and the general idea of a Wyoming sheriff, his Indian* best friend and his sexy deputy.    The books are completely different in tone, in plot, in story.     While the Walt Longmire of A&E’s cop show is a taciturn father figure with broodingly quiet competence his novel predecessor is garrulous, witty, wordy and philosophical.    The books are written in the first person, and Walt tells his story with liberal amounts of wry wit.   Classical literary allusions pepper the pages; every book has at least one Shakespeare quote.    I’d definitely say the show and the novels are equally enjoyable, but honestly it’s sort of like comparing roast beef and Chicago-style pizza.

The other bad news is that if you come to these looking for traditional series mystery you may disappointed as well.   Each book thus far has a central crime but it’s never much of a puzzle.  Since the books are more about the camaraderie of Walt and his coterie of eccentrics the entertainment value comes from following their interactions.   As far as mysteries go these are quite possibly the complete opposite of the page-turning thrillers by Dan Brown, Jonathan Kellerman, Jeffrey Deaver and Patricia Cornwell.   You still turn the pages, but just to hang out with everybody.  There aren’t that many compelling “gosh, I wonder what that mysterious residue was?” types of questions.   As long as you know that going into it, you’ll be fine.

In fact, as I write this review and ponder the whole thing I realise that the books these remind me most of are the Father Tim/Mitford novels by Jan Karon.   Now, before you think “ugh, I’m not doing that” I don’t mean they’re similar in tone.  It’s just that these books, like those, are highly serialised and highly atmospheric in their setting.   Just as Karon’s books are the story of Mitford and the goofy characters who live there, these are the more butch version, the story of Absaroka County.

Each book does deal with a crime that is solved by the end of the novel, but the overarching stories of Walt, Henry, et. al. carry through from one novel to the next.   It’s very good to know that going into it; it’s also a good idea to have more than one novel on hand because you’ll want to dive right into the subsequent story to see what  happens next.

As far as ratings go, I’d say the books get four bookworms as general fiction.   But if I were rating them as genre police procedurals I’d actually have to give them 2.5-3 bookworms.   In other words–I love them, but the Mystery aspect is NOT their central strength.

4 bookworms

*The books are very clear that the term “Indian” is preferable to Native American from the Indian point-of-view as the Cheyenne do not consider themselves Americans. Not knowing any Cheyenne personally I’ll take Johnson’s word for it.

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Contest Update
Congratulations go to Bridgett Williams-Searle, who won the giveaway for Anna And The Dragon by Jill Domschot. I apologise profusely for the delay in announcing it. Things went pear-shaped here for a bit. But we’re back on track! Yay!

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