Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: ANOTHER MAN'S MOCCASINS by Craig Johnson

another man's moccasins cover

When the body of a young woman is found off of I-25, within spitting distance of an underpass where a homeless man with obvious psychological problems is hiding, the murder seems like an open-and-shut case. But not to Sheriff Walt Longmire. Despite the fact that the man in question, Virgil White Buffalo, attacked him, Walt isn't so sure Virgil would kill anyone without a reason. And when a photograph of Walt taken in Vietnam is found among the victim's possessions, he knows there's something more to the woman's story—he just has to figure out why she's in Wyoming and how she's connected to his past.

This is the fourth (I think? Yes, fourth) book in the Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson, and it's a quick read. I enjoyed it, even though I do have to admit I completely skipped the backstory scenes set in Vietnam. You know me—I don't have the patience for backstory. I did read the first few, and young-Walt and -Henry were adorbs, but I have to say the novel didn't suffer for my having skipped over those scenes at all.

Okay, I'm about to get spoilery, so if you can't handle gigantic hints about who the murderer is, skip the next paragraph.

Another Man's Moccasins is one of those mysteries where whodunnit is obvious pretty early on, but Johnson tricks both Walt and the reader into questioning their instincts by using their insecurities and sympathies against them. I have to say, it was pretty well-done. All of the main suspects are strangers, people passing through Absaroka County on their way to somewhere else. All of them have some history with violence, and two of them are part of racially discriminated groups—Indian and Vietnamese. Is Walt targeting the other two suspects more than Virgil because he sympathizes with a fellow Vietnam vet (as Henry says after Virgil's arrested, "He's one of us," and he doesn't mean Indian. Cue band of brothers reference), or because his experiences in Vietnam have prejudiced him against Vietnamese people? Some of the new guys on Walt's staff assume it's the latter, which kind of hurts his feelings. So he spends the rest of the book asking his friends if they think he's prejudiced, and I would be tempted to say the novel is about prejudice if the mystery hadn't shook out the way it did. Instead, I think the point is that you shouldn't judge someone's reactions as unreasonable or crazy or prejudiced until you know where they're coming from.

Anyway, the mystery in Another Man's Moccasins is pretty straight-forward, which is probably why this book is so short. Even if you don't skip the Vietnam scenes, it's still less than 300 pages. But it gives Johnson an opportunity to explore the effects of war on Walt, his BFF Henry Standing Bear, his mentor and the former Absaroka County sheriff, Lucian, and Virgil.

Another of the things I really enjoyed about Another Man's Moccasins is that Johnson's background in playwriting really shines through, especially in the second half of the book. The climax is perfect: spooky, dramatic, with an almost Shakespearean conclusion. And the book plays around with concepts of perception and knowledge that demonstrates a more sophisticated use of storytelling than in the previous Longmire books.

So as Walt would say, Yep. Another good book in the series.

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