Book review: Sheriff Walt Longmire's latest adventure 'Junkyard Dogs' is his best yet

By Oline H. Cogdill

Sun Sentinel

Published: Saturday, June 26 2010 3:00 p.m. MDT

"JUNKYARD DOGS," by Craig Johnson, Viking, 306 pages, $25.95

A sense of humor helps most of us get through the day and it certainly helps Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire, the hero of Craig Johnson's highly entertaining series.

Walt's smart mouth and his keen wit let him vent about the humor in human folly. This helps him deal with his job keeping the small town of Durant, Wyo., safe, but also with his often-fractured personal life. Humor comes from the absurd situations the residents get themselves into as well as from co-workers who enjoy each other's company and use comedy as a way to relieve stress.

But Johnson has been careful not to make Walt a buffoon with a badge. Walt clearly sees the evil in humanity, whether it's obvious or hidden, and he is willing to rise to action when needed.

Walt does all that and more in "Junkyard Dogs," Johnson's sixth and finest novel in his series. Johnson keeps "Junkyard Dogs" steeped in Western lore with a contemporary spin. Johnson's amiable plot and believable characters seemed to be cut from the tradition of Western storytellers. It's easy to imagine Johnson telling this tale around a campfire after a long day of herding cattle — if, of course, these cowboys had iPhones with lots of apps to keep them entertained.

A bizarre accident jump-starts "Junkyard Dogs." George "Geo" Stewart, owner of the local junkyard, is dragged for more than two miles behind a 1968 Toronado driven by his granddaughter-in-law. Miraculously, Geo has only a few scrapes and the accident was not malicious but the result of some ill-fated chimney cleaning during a wintry Wyoming day. "The Stewarts," Walt notes, "were a drama waiting in the wings." Geo is more worried about the severed thumb he found in a cooler in the junkyard and his feud with local developer Ozzie Dobbs. Ozzie is building a high-priced housing development on adjacent land and wants the dump moved. Walt tries to find out who lost a thumb, and why, while refereeing Geo and Ozzie's intensifying fight. Meanwhile, Walt deals with myriad personnel problems, including a deputy whose recent encounter with a criminal has left him gun-shy.

Johnson elevates "Junkyard Dogs" from the typical "evil developer" plot by injecting unpredictable twists that include complicated family bonds and family secrets. The breathtaking beauty of Wyoming shines in its pages, even though the novel is set in the dead of winter. "The high plains," Walt says, "was a place of extremes with a people of extremes — most of my work involved the sentient and venal aspects of human nature."

As Johnson so insightfully shows, those extremes include the comedy or the tragedy that evil spawns.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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