I will acknowledge that I am a huge fan of the “Longmire” television series. I mention this because I watched the first two episodes of the second season before reading A SERPENT’S TOOTH, the latest literary entry in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire canon. The program and Johnson’s books complement each other perfectly. While the televised version does not rigidly adhere to the novels, the characters who form the strong backbone to which Johnson attaches his plots are wonderfully presented in both media. The result is that anyone who has had the pleasure of picking up a Longmire novel will feel compelled to watch the television series, and vice versa.
"While the genre of western fiction has never really died, its resurgence, due to this series and others, is most welcome. Read A SERPENT’S TOOTH and find out why."
A SERPENT’S TOOTH continues Johnson’s practice of meeting and exceeding the quality bar that he sets with his previous efforts. Please note that if you are familiar with the television series, the relationships among certain characters have...evolved, if you will, so that starting in mid-stream with the book series will expose you to what lies ahead (possibly) on the small screen. That being said, A SERPENT’S TOOTH is a fabulous place to start or continue with the Longmire saga. While there is an underlying mystery here, as in all of the books, these tales are at heart contemporary westerns in the best possible sense, set in the rural wilderness of Wyoming and South Dakota.
The festivities begin with the discovery of a teenager who has been surreptitiously camping out in the barn of a local widow. The teen turns out to be a runaway, a “lost boy” who has been ostracized by a radical offshoot of the Latter-day Saints. It develops that the boy’s mother has gone missing, and there is some indication that she may have met with foul play. A local landowner with some considerable acreage and influence has some relationship with the cult with which the boy was associated. Longmire begins poking around, both inside the confines of his jurisdictional authority and outside, and as a result finds that there is far more involved here than the overstepping of a fringe religious cult. He, of course, has some help with this in the form of his fetching and hilariously foul-mouthed deputy, Victoria Moretti, and the Cheyenne Nation as represented by Henry Standing Bear.
The book is not all investigation. There is an interesting social backdrop to the story, consisting of Longmire’s and The Bear’s high school football jersey numbers being retired at the big game on the coming Friday night, with some minor but nonetheless important tension building up over whether or not Longmire will attend. Vic is hotter than a bowl of firecrackers, and when she is absent from the action, one feels it until she returns. The reason for being in attendance, however, is Walt Longmire himself. His easily paced first-person narrative is just perfect as the story slowly unravels to an unhurried conclusion involving mineral rights and the seemingly timeless conflicts of the rural West.
Johnson is only now beginning to acquire his rightful due as a wordsmith. His character development and presentation are what drives the series. There are any number of minor yet unforgettable scenes --- two involving a VCR are among my favorite literary experiences of 2013 --- that, when combined with the aforementioned elements, comprise a whole that is greater than the sum of the book’s considerable parts. While the genre of western fiction has never really died, its resurgence, due to this series and others, is most welcome. Read A SERPENT’S TOOTH and find out why.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 7, 2013