Spirit of Steamboat: A Walt Longmire Story
SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT is a short novel --- square-bound and just under 150 pages --- that fills a hole in the Walt Longmire timeline while telling us a bit more about the man himself. Though a somewhat quicker read than Craig Johnson’s typical work in the Longmire canon, it is a substantial one nonetheless. It might be classified as a Christmas story with some degree of accuracy, but whether or not you consider it to be a seasonal novel, it is certainly worth reading.
There are any number of parallels --- freely acknowledged by Johnson --- between SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT and Charles Dickens’s classic A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The story begins with Longmire in his office on a lonely Christmas Eve, with the two main women in his life elsewhere. He receives an unexpected visitor, a somewhat unusual young woman who is unknown to Longmire (at least at first) while he is very well known to her. She is looking to visit Lucian Connally, Longmire’s predecessor in the sheriff’s office. Connally is busily tapping a bottle of cheer when Longmire and the woman arrive at his residence in the Durant Home for Assisted Living; Connally swears, sober or otherwise, that he has never seen the woman before. As we might expect, that is not quite accurate, and what follows is an account, in Longmire’s voice, of an incident that took place in 1988 involving himself and Connally.
"Though a somewhat quicker read than Craig Johnson’s typical work in the Longmire canon, it is a substantial one nonetheless. It might be classified as a Christmas story with some degree of accuracy, but whether or not you consider it to be a seasonal novel, it is certainly worth reading."
Both men almost lost their lives during a suicide mission in which they attempted to transport a young burn victim and her elderly grandmother to a hospital, by plane, in the middle of a raging snowstorm. You might ask why you should read this book. It is obvious that Longmire and Connally survived the 1988 incident, considering that they are both sitting in a room more or less intact in 2013. And it becomes fairly obvious pretty early in the game who the young woman is. However, Johnson spins a story that is worthy of your time, as everything that can go wrong physically and mechanically does just that.
The meat of SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT is the telling of how Longmire, Connally and some equally important players use everything but string and sealing wax to keep the plane in the air and on course, and the young patient who is so tenaciously clinging to life alive. You might learn a bit more than you want to about medical procedures and flying (the latter, particularly, if you’re not entirely comfortable with using a mechanical object to assist you in defying the law of gravity over great distances). But you will also gain a major appreciation for the folks who keep the planes in the air and the hearts beating, as well as for first responders who do good and difficult works while the rest of us sleep comfortably and safely in our beds.
SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT is shot through with irony both sweet and bitter, which will be obvious to anyone with even a nodding familiarity with the Longmire mythos. Johnson covers everything, including an issue that a number of thriller practitioners often miss: “Why is she showing up now?” Johnson answers this question and much more in this fine addition to the series, which also serves as a terrific introduction for those who only know about the television adaptation.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 17, 2013