“Spirit of Steamboat” by Craig Johnson. (Walt Longmire #09.1)

*Read between 16th and 18th September 2018

Craig Johnson delivers another gripping Longmire story and, yet again, he does not fail to disappoint.

“Spirit of Steamboat” is a longer short story, more novella in length. It begins on Christmas Eve in the “current” today of the Longmire chronology. Our Sheriff is sitting at his desk reading an aged copy of a festive classic that was given to him years earlier by his father; Walt reads this book every year around the Holidays.

Unexpectedly, a woman enters his office and begins to ask questions about Lucian Connally, the former sheriff of Absaroka County. She avoids Longmire’s requests to give her name and, sensing no danger from this mysterious woman, Longmire goes with her to see Lucian. The subsequent meeting brings an episode from Walt’s past vividly to mind.

The author has a gift for giving every new Longmire story a different and unique spin; the tales each vary in their construct and do not simply repeat the same tried and tested format of Walt + assorted colleagues + crime/mystery + villain + action + setting = Longmire book. Not that there would be very much wrong with that at all. Sure, each new book has most of these elements included, but it is the manner in which each new tale varies that hold your attention and delights and excites the reader and makes us want more.

Mr Johnson is akin to a master chef; he works with familiar ingredients to create our favourite reads but he is not afraid to experiment with his dish and to throw a little something extra into the pot to keep things fresh and spicy. In doing so, he satisfies our appetite and keeps us salivating for yet more treats ahead.

Not every Longmire adventure involves every character, some do not make an active appearance for several stories. Despite being absent, these characters still evolve and change is subtle ways so that, when they reappear, they are both familiar and new at the same time. Some favourites are unexpectedly and shockingly taken from us. But each new tale retains the wit, humour, characters we enjoy, thrills and spills and vigour, pace and style that we adore. Each story is unique and welcome and we never tire of our trips into Absaroka County, Wyoming.

In a similar vein to “Another Man’s Moccasins”, book four in the series, “Steamboat” is set over two time periods. Whereas the dual time frame plot of “Moccasins” was told in interchanging chapters, thereby revealing the plot as both timelines unfolded almost simultaneously, the bulk of the action in this story – and Boy, Howdy! there is a lot of white-knuckle, seat of your pants stuff going on in this rodeo – takes place thirty years previously.

In this novella, we meet a younger Longmire, newly elected as Sheriff, and we get to spend more time in the company of Lucian, learning more about him as we do. I like both these men and it is intriguing to see the ways in which they have, and have not, changed over the years. This gives the reader a great sense of getting to really “know” the characters. 

As I have suggested in my earlier reviews, it is a delight to feel so comfortable with a fictional creation and to witness their development as their story arc plays out. Mr Johnson has crafted people and places that we really come to love and care for. That is a magical thing to have achieved.

“Steamboat” is an engaging, warm and clever homage to a treasured Christmas classic and it is another fine entry into the Longmire stable.

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