Revenge killings disrupt the serenity of a small western community and greatly complicate life for a sheriff nearing retirement.
Kent Haruf’s readers will feel immediately comfortable in newcomer Johnson’s Absaroka County. Everybody in the beautiful, isolated Wyoming area knows each other. Conversations are spare and, if not always irony-free, certainly lacking coastal self-pity, analysis, or politics. And the inhabitants are smart enough to handle their own business, even when that business is murder and the clues are few. Responsibility for solutions rests in the broad hands of Sheriff Walt Longmire, Vietnam Marine veteran and widower, overweight, and excessively fond of beer. The victims are two of the four local high-school boys who got off way too lightly for the rape of and assault on Melissa Little Bird, a mentally disabled Cheyenne girl. Longmire realizes after the first murder that if his plan to name his successor is to succeed—tricky enough even before the murders, since his fondest wish is to pass the badge to Deputy Victoria Moretti, a foul-mouthed but extremely capable Philadelphian—he’s going to have to solve things before the state police muscle in. Considerable assistance with the police work comes to Walt from Cheyenne publican Henry Standing Bear, the sheriff’s best friend and also a Vietnam vet. Henry is Walt’s Virgil as the sheriff steps onto the local reservation. Melissa had many friends and a large family, and feelings ran high after the rape. Bullets at the crime scene seem to have come from an elegant 19th-century rifle like the one owned by Melissa’s father. Moving carefully (the pace is exceptionally deliberate), Walt reconstructs crime scenes and picks through lab analyses, but the sparse clues are slow to yield their truths. Indian spirits step in to help, but they don’t solve the puzzle. Walt does.
The police work comes slow and the solution comes out of nowhere, but Johnson’s gorgeous Wyoming and agreeable characters make the trip very, very pleasant.