Huntington native Craig Johnson is one of those “one-a-year” mystery writers who delivers every time and keeps his many fans begging for more.
Newly published “Land of Wolves” (Viking, $28) is the 15th installment in Johnson’s long-running series featuring the adventures (and misadventures) of Walt Longmire, the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. (Don’t bother looking in your atlas. Absaroka County exists only in Johnson’s fertile imagination.)
In Johnson’s last book, “Depth of Winter,” Walt’s daughter Cady was kidnapped and taken to Mexico by his long-time nemesis, Tomas Bidarte, an international hit man and drug lord. Walt travels south into Mexico to successfully rescue her. There’s lots of gunfire, with the sheriff badly wounded.
As “Land of Wolves” opens, he’s returned to his Wyoming home and is recovering from his wounds when an itinerant shepherd is found dead. Initially it looks like a suicide. But the shepherd’s connection to the Extepares, a powerful family of Basque ranchers with a long history of local violence, leads the sheriff into probing the death as a possible murder.
As Walt investigates, he comes across strange carvings on trees, as well as play money coupons from inside Mallo Cup candies, which he interprets as messages from his spiritual guide, Virgil White Buffalo. The sheriff knows that Virgil usually reaches out if a child is in danger. So when a young boy with ties to the Extepare clan arrives, the stakes grow higher.
And then there’s the huge renegade wolf that keeps mysteriously hanging around. With both a killer and a wolf on the loose, Walt has his hands full.
As always Johnson balances a knotty plot with some comic touches. For example, this latest novel finds Walt finally getting a computer. Much comedy ensues as he haltingly learns how to send email.
Johnson graduated from the former Huntington East High School (Class of 1979) and Marshall University, then knocked around the country for a while before ultimately ending up in Wyoming. There he and his wife Judy have a working ranch just outside the tiny town of Ucross (population 25).
When Johnson was a youngster growing up in Huntington he had some of his teachers shaking their heads. They wondered what would become of the boy. By his own admission, he spent much of his time looking out the schoolroom window daydreaming, rather than paying attention to the blackboard.
As things turned out, his teachers needn’t have worried. Johnson has done all right for himself.
Viking, his publisher, reports selling more than 3 million Longmire books. Netflix continues to stream all six seasons of the popular “Longmire” television series. And there are persistent rumors of a possible Longmire movie.