You think maybe Craig Johnson reads “Book Group of One?” Because, here’s the thing. I was not totally thrilled with Hell Is Empty, his last Walt Longmire mystery, and I made my opinion known on this little blog. In fact I suggested that Johnson might ease up on poor Walt, dialing down the physical abuse and also the psychic horror. And guess what? He did! In As the Crow Flies, the biggest threat to Walt’s health and peace of mind comes from his daughter Cady and concerns Walt’s inefficiency in making arrangements for her wedding. This could sound cheesy and sentimental but at the end of the book there is a limpid sincerity to Walt’s emotional reaction to his daughter’s marriage that, yes, moved me to satisfying tears.
Oh, yeah, he gets the bad guy, too. Plus there’s a whole lot of Henry Standing Bear in this book, and Walt has a peyote vision with talking animals. I tell you, there’s nothing missing. Well, OK. Maybe toward the end there’s a little stumble in the narrative drive. The plot concerns the murder of a young Indian woman, whom Walt and the Bear actually witness falling off a cliff, with her baby in her arms. (Don’t worry, the baby survives.) It appears that she was pushed. But as Walt and the Bear — and Tribal Police Chief Lolo Long, a gorgeous, difficult Iraq war veteran and newbie officer — eliminate suspects one by one, it begins to seem that maybe this murder’s not going to get solved. The FBI intervenes, there are unrelated drug charges and jurisdiction squabbles because it all plays out “on the Rez.” Walt says, “I thought about how this was not how it was supposed to end, with her [Long] providing cab service for the Feds and me walking away. In a perfect cinematic world we would’ve captured the bad guys in spectacular fashion with explosions, car chases, and a parting kiss.” I thought maybe this time Johnson was going to join the parade of mystery writers who turn their backs on the solve-the-crime tradition, but in a hasty flurry of activity, he has Walt solve the murder and provide the closure that I suppose I still look for. Though I could barely follow it, in this instance.
For me, the big payoff came as Walt gives his daughter in marriage:
I thought about Audrey Plain Feather and how her life hadn’t turned out the way she’d hoped — maybe nobody’s did.
My wife Martha’s hadn’t. Mine hadn’t. Even Henry’s hadn’t.
Maybe Cady’s would.
It’s hopes like this you cling to at major turning points in your life, and, more important, the lives of your children. You keep going, and you hope for the best, and sometimes, maybe not very often, your hopes come true.”
See? I’m welling up just quoting it. Thanks, Walt. Thanks, Craig.