Two years ago, 4 Durant, Wyoming football players assaulted and raped Melissa Little Bear, a teenage Cheyenne who had been dealt a bad hand at birth thanks to a drunk mother. The assault was the crime of the decade in Absaroka County and that the boys got off with a bit less than 2 years in juvenile detention has not set well with Sheriff Walt Longmire. The crime and its outcome still haunt him.
A couple sheepherders stumble across the body of the worst of the four. Shot from some distance with a large bore rifle. The first thought is a tragic accident while hunting. But the presence of an owl feather, symbolic of death, tucked inside the kid's coat steers Longmire toward something premeditated. Forensics on the slug indicates the gun might well be something not hanging on too many walls - a Sharps .45-70 buffalo rifle, a favorite of the 19th century cavalry and snipers alike. Accurate and lethal. Hell, it was designed to bring down a buffalo. What chance does a 20yo have?
Tracking down a rare weapon isn’t all that hard, but about a dozen are registered in the county. And in most cases, the owner is more than capable of hitting a target up to a half-mile distant. Lonnie Little Bear owns one of the rifles, Melissa’s father. He’s not a likely shooter as he lost both legs to diabetes. And his is an antique that belonged to his great great grandfather who used it with some success at a little standoff along the banks of the Little Big Horn. Since then, the gun has been rumored to be haunted.
A second of the four boys is found dead. Shot from distance and a feather tucked in his shirt. Walt puts the third in lockup for safekeeping and the 4th manages to elude Longmire’s grasp, much to Walt's exasperation. While investigating the site of the 2nd murder, Longmire and his Cheyenne best friend, Henry Standing Bear, follow tracks into the Big Horns just as the fall’s first snowstorm hits leading to one of the more heroic rescues I’ve ever come across and a conclusion that I am sure will weigh heavily on Walt for some time to come.
So after reading two Longmire mysteries, I decided I should start at the beginning. And in this case, that’s a good idea. Johnson goes into some excellent detail about Longmire’s history as sheriff as well as needed background about his foul mouth, belligerent deputy (Victoria, aka Vic), the part time deputy Ferguson (The Ferg), his secretary Ruby, The Busy Bee Diner owner Dorothy, former sheriff Lucian Connally, and most importantly, Henry Standing Bear – Walt’s best friend since a dustup in middle school and now owner of the Red Pony bar and grille. Hell, Johnson tells us about most everyone who lives down near the Powder River. Well over half the book is about the local denizens of Durant. After a single book, you feel comfortable around the Durant locals, except maybe for Vic’s trash talk. I also find it interesting that Johnson lives in a burg called Ucross, Wyoming . . . population 25, way the hell up in NE Wyoming.
I’ve said on this forum multiple times that I’m still looking for an author to replace the late great Tony Hillerman’s command of the Indian culture – his specialty was Navajo. Johnson doesn’t take us inside the Cheyenne culture the same way as did Hillerman (at least as far as I've read), rather he shows us how Longmire and Henry straddle the border between the US and the sovereign nation of Cheyenne. In particular, the spirits that hang around and tug at whomever is in possession of the Retriever of the Dead rifle.
I’ve read #1 now, #2 (Death Without Company) and #4 (Another Man’sMoccasins). Next up is Kindness Goes Unpunished. Twelve Longmire mysteries . . . three down and nine to go.
Do I see power rotation in the future? As Longmire would reply,