large_Any_Other_Name“Any Other Name” by Craig Johnson

Viking, $26.95, 317 pp.

By David Steinberg

Living in the West may be reason enough to follow the capers and successful crime-fighting tactics of Walt Longmire, present-day sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming.

Longmire has a quirky, endearing sense of humor. He has a warm friendship with Henry Standing Bear (nicknamed “The Cheyenne Nation”) and a flirtacious connection with undersheriff Victoria Moretti(cq both)

Sure, Longmire may be a popular guy but he’s a fictional guy. Longmire sprouts from the imagination of writer Craig Johnson.

He’s back in Johnson’s 11th and latest Walt Longmire mystery “Any Other Name.” (And he’ll return soon in season three of the A&E series “Longmire.”)

Even in Johnson’s home state (He lives in Ucross, Wyo., pop. 25), cops confuse Longmire  as fictional character with his creator, a living, breathing person. Honest.

“I got a letter from the Wyoming sheriffs association. It was addressed to Walt Longmire,” Johnson said. “It said we’d like you to come speak to our winter meeting and why it is that you’re the most popular sheriff in the state yet you’ve got the highest death count.”

Hmmm.

But let’s take another view about Walt Longmire’s reach. Why are Johnson’s novels such hits in Europe, especially France?

“If someone would have asked me which country in Europe the books would take off, maybe France wouldn’t have been the first guess,” Johnson said in a phone interview.

“We’ve been (on tour) to France 13 times in the last six years.”

He’s got a few theories for the novels’ appeal in Europe.

Both theories are rooted in entertainment history.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, for one. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, onetime soldier and buffalo hunter, organized shows with cowboy-and-Indian themes and took them to Europe in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Johnson thinks that planted the seed for the way Europeans’ understand the American West.

His other, overlaying, theory is rooted in the post-World War II era. American media overwhelmed Europe with Westerns on the silver screen and on TV shows with the likes of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. And there were Western novels by such writers as Jack Schaefer and Louis L’Amour.

Autry and Rogers were decent guys, heroes even. Then the anti-hero came into his own in the 1960s and stayed around for awhile. Now comes good guy Walt Longmire. “What’s old has become new again,” Johnson speculated.

In “Any Other Name,” the sheriff is called by a buddy to help figure out what may be criminal activities in neighboring Campbell County. Yes, it’s out of Longmire’s jurisdiction and he’s not officially invited.

What he’s looking at are these events. The Campbell County’s sheriff’s investigator commits suicide. But why? Three women go missing. Longmire starts snooping, and what he finds may border on slave trade.

There are two situations in which Longmire almost dies. One is a very long, wet, slippery chase in a snowstorm/freezing fog in Deadwood, S.D. At one point, inside a state game lodge, the hypothermic sheriff has conversations with people who may be ghosts. In the other, more terrifying situation, he barely rescues a woman from the car of a train rapidly filling up with coal.

He’s also working under a deadline. The sheriff must complete his probe because in time to fly to Philadelphia where his daughter is about to give birth. Any minute now.

Johnson’s previous novel in the series, “Spirit of Steamboat” was selected by the Wyoming Library Association as the One-Book-Wyoming, the inaugural state read.

  

Craig Johnson signs, discusses “Any Other Name” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 13 at Collected Works, 202 Galisteo, Santa Fe and at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 14 at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW.

 

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