Review of The Western Star by Craig Johnson
Ever since the final season of Longmire became available on Netflix I cannot get enough of the franchise. As the series has come to an end I have to satisfy my Longmire urges through other means. And so I have started to read the novels that inspired the series – written by Wyoming author Craig Johnson. This is a short review on The Western Star, the latest novel published in September.
A small synopsis
The Western Star tells the story of how Walt Longmire first began to deputize Sheriff Lucian Connolly, back in 1972. The title of the book references the steam train that carries all the Sherriff’s of Wyoming on their annual association trip. Walt is not certain about being in law enforcement. His troubled relationship with his wife Martha adds to his feeling that he has not found his calling. However, a murder on the Western Star, as it is barreling through the snow to Wyoming’s capital Cheyenne, changes Walt’s perspective. In the present day Walt has to deal with the aftermath of the murder of his son-in-law and Vic’s brother – Michael.
So far little is written about Walt’s days as a deputy to Lucian. This novel fills in the gaps by showing how a young Walt Longmire isn’t all that different from the old one. The mystery surrounding the murder intrigues the reader, but the drama behind the problems solving it is what keeps the reader going. The fact the story is set in 1972 is shown in the attitudes people and especially the sheriff’s have towards suspects and motives.
However, despite the attempt by the author to weave the plot of Murder On The Orient Express into the story, his attempts is buried by the story itself. Where the Agatha Christie’s book tries to explain why all of the participants want to kill the same man in The Western Star this is not the case. Near the end of the novel the motives of the suspect is known and is of decidedly selfish purposes.
The Western Star is by no means a perfect novel. A lot of the plot development and structure feels too deliberate. What for most of the story appears to be two separate storylines (past and present) come together at the very end. Yet I felt as though they should not have. The developments of the past and how they affect the character of Walt in the present were enough. It felt as though the author had envisioned an ending early on and feverishly wrote towards it. Now, it may have been initially a good idea, but in practice it felt like overkill. The villain of the story, the murderer in 1972, hangs like a Sword of Damocles over Walt in the present. But I believe it was not necessary for the villain to actually have an active part in the present.
The Western Star also contains another short coming, Vic is decidedly underused. I miss her sharp sardonic wit, just as with Dry Bones we don’t get to read about her as much as we used to.
In short, The Western Star is a fine novel, an excellent and fun prequel. But the story deserves two separate novels, not one.