Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY by Craig Johnson

death without company cover

Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire is still recovering from the events of The Cold Dish, but at least he's out of the house and voluntarily speaking to people, so that's a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, former Absaroka County sheriff and Walt's mentor, Lucien, keeps telling him there's something fishy going on at the nursing home. Walt's like, "Whatever you say, Agatha Christie;" but then one of the nursing home residents dies and Lucien insists it was murrrderrr. Walt agrees to investigate out of respect for Lucien, and winds up opening a whole worm-filled can of ugly secrets he didn't want to know.

I know when I reviewed The Cold Dish I was kind of like, "Sigh," and "Meh," but then I realized I was really missing my guys. That would be Walt and his BFF, Henry Standing Bear. At what point they became "my guys," I'm not sure, but I decided to read the second book in the series, Death Without Company, immediately after finishing the first. It's been more than a decade since I've done something like that, and I'm not sorry I did now.

Death Without Company is much better than The Cold Dish. For one, it's shorter. A mystery series with books that keep getting shorter? I must be in a reading utopia right now. For two, a lot more things happen in the course of Death Without Company than in The Cold Dish. Walt is on go mode for the entire novel, what with people getting murdered, and attacked, and the police department setting up sting operations, and Lucien being a curmudgeonly nuisance, and suspects escaping, and the new deputy showing up.

Like in The Cold Dish, the mystery is kind of depressing. It hinges on a star-crossed love affair between Mari Baroja and Lucien, and the shitty life Mari had after her family separated them. But also like in The Cold Dish, that aspect of the story was balanced nicely with snappy dialog and Walt's wry sense of humor. As usual, Henry gets the best lines in the book. My favorite was,

"How many murders have we had in this county since you became sheriff?"
I counted up quickly, then recounted. "Five."
"Three in the last month?"
He picked up the sandwich and looked at it. "You should retire... quickly."

Of course, the resolving of the plot depends on a series of incredible coincidences, and I guessed who the murderer was almost immediately (though not their motive), but those are minor quibbles.

One scene that did really bother me, though, was when Lucien told Walt what happened to Mari's husband, Charlie Nurburn. It was described in incredibly graphic detail—how? Lucien wasn't there, and I doubt any woman would have told him what happened to her at that level. Also, why? I didn't need to know most of that to understand what happened and it didn't drive the story. None of the other acts of violence in the book were treated to such highly expressive and intense description, even when Walt himself is attacked, so it seemed like a gratuitous depiction of violence against women with a tone of grotesque fascination to boot. Dislike.

Aside from that, Death Without Company was a perfectly enjoyable mystery novel. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series.

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