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by Craig Johnson
Viking, September 2017
295 pages
ISBN: 0525426957

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

With THE WESTERN STAR, Craig Johnson bridges the gap between Longmire's past and the future. Johnson fills in the story of Longmire's first joining the Sheriff's office in the 70s while at the same time setting the stage for a future Longmire in a very different setting and with different concerns than keeping lawlessness at bay in Wyoming. Both plot lines are very effective, and it will be interesting to see how Longmire fares in the new direction Johnson has set for him.

The Western Star is a decommissioned train that once ran through Wyoming, and in Longmire's past it provided a sort of boondoggle for all of the Wyoming sheriffs. Each sheriff was allowed to take a guest along on the annual train trip through the state, and Absaroka County's Sheriff Lucian Connally, who had just hired Longmire, chose to take his new deputy. This was in the 1970s, as Walt Longmire was trying to keep his new wife and deciding whether he wanted to make a career of law enforcement. As the train makes it way from one water stop to the next, Walt is approached to help investigate what appears to be a conspiracy involving a number of sheriffs. Soon, there's a murder aboard the train and young Walt is lured away at one of the stops. This hiatus provides an opportunity for Johnson to fill the reader in on some Wyoming history as well as to have Longmire meet up with an early rock star.

The historical plot line plays counterpoint to a modern plot involving Walt's attempt to ensure that a criminal he put behind bars does not obtain compassionate release from prison. The identity of the prisoner is kept from the reader until the end of the book, when the two plots converge. The book is written in alternating chapters – longer at the start of the book and shorter as the book progresses. The pace of the book feels like a train getting up to speed from a dead stop; the reader can almost feel the pistons moving faster and faster as the book progresses.

There are several of the hold-your-breath scenes for which the Longmire series is known, mainly involving the young deputy. Modern day Longmire's edges have been smoothing out over recent books, so bringing his young self to life provides an important level of excitement to the book. Johnson's depiction of setting veers away from the landscape to provide historical perspective, but it is very strong writing nonetheless. This book is more about Longmire and less about other characters than many in the series. His character is further developed through this largely retrospective study. The book will be most appreciated by those already know Longmire, and some will find the ending (which sets up what appears to be a change in direction) inconclusive…but intriguing.

§ Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in rural Wyoming.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, September 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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