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The Western Star

Review

The Western Star

THE WESTERN STAR, the latest installment in Craig Johnson’s increasingly revered Walt Longmire series, is one of my favorites in the contemporary western canon thus far. There are a number of reasons for this, but chief among them is that a good half of the novel examines the remote past of the somewhat taciturn, well-and-diversely read Wyoming sheriff, giving the readership a good, steady look at the child --- well, young man, anyway --- who is the father of the familiar figure of literature and screen. We get this within the confines of an intriguing mystery of decades ago, the tendrils of which invade the present and, as we learn, will affect the future as well.

The book begins with Walt in Cheyenne, the capital of Wyoming, where he is completing his four-year law enforcement firearms certification. He has done just that as the story opens, but, as we quickly learn, that is not the only reason for his visit. A photograph of a group of armed lawmen gathered around the front of a steam locomotive prompts Walt to engage in a reminiscence that alternates with the present.

"THE WESTERN STAR is one of the most complex novels to feature Walt Longmire, as it begins the resolution of a long-running storyline while connecting his past with the future for possibly one or more forthcoming installments."

In the past, Walt, as a Vietnam veteran and newly minted Wyoming deputy sheriff, accompanied his new boss --- a much younger Lucian Connolly --- to a gathering of the Wyoming Sheriff’s Association aboard the Western Starlocomotive of the title. The Walt on that train was in some turmoil, given that his marriage to his pregnant wife was on shaky ground, as was his faith in his judgment regarding his choice of vocations. The journey was an interesting one, to say the least, given that Walt raised the ire of at least one of his travelling companions and found himself under suspicion of murder when one of his fellow lawmen on the train turned up dead and another went missing.

In the present, the other half of Walt’s dual-purpose trip to Cheyenne is to attend a parole hearing for a prisoner who is reported to be suffering from a terminal illness. Walt is there to testify strongly against his release, which he has done regularly and repeatedly over the years, ever since the man was sentenced to life in prison in the 1970s. Neither Walt’s undersheriff/romantic interest, Vic Moretti, nor his daughter, Cady, knows why he believes the prisoner should never be released, other than for his stated insistence that life in prison should mean just that. It’s an irrebuttable piece of logic that somehow has gotten turned upside down, as have many things over the past couple of decades, but Walt is determined that the convict will never see the outside of prison again. However, the Wyoming governor’s wife is an activist who has taken up the cause of compassionate release in this case, and with the help of elements of the Fifth Estate, it appears that she may get her wish.

The story of what occurred over 40 years before is revealed in dribs and drabs, as the reader learns Walt’s role in solving what amounted to his first murder investigation, and how the results of that case are about to impact his present with results as ironically devastating as they were to his past.

THE WESTERN STAR is one of the most complex novels to feature Walt Longmire, as it begins the resolution of a long-running storyline while connecting his past with the future for possibly one or more forthcoming installments. The nod and wink to Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is also more than a homage; it is cleverly acknowledged by young Walt throughout the book. Those who for some reason have yet to sample that iconic mystery work will no doubt want to do so after reading Johnson’s updated take. And while complete in itself, THE WESTERN STAR does end on a cliffhanger. Hopefully fans of the series will not have to wait a full year to see how things resolve.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 8, 2017

The Western Star
by Craig Johnson

  • Publication Date: September 5, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking
  • ISBN-10: 0525426957
  • ISBN-13: 9780525426950