This newest adventure of Walt Longmire, “Depth of Winter” by Craig Johnson, is a huge departure from his previous books. This 14th book in the Longmire series is primarily set in Mexico, and it is a vastly different world from Wyoming.
Also, most of the characters are unknown to Johnson’s fervent fans. He has created a totally new cast of players to surround Walt. Henry and Vic are mostly offscreen. In “Depth of Winter,” Johnson displays his expert skill in creating fascinating and memorable characters. This is an act of supreme daring to take a beloved character and put him in a totally new place without his trusty sidekicks.
For those readers who follow the Longmire series, they will remember that at the close of “The Western Star,” Walt’s daughter, Cady, was kidnapped by a vengeful Mexican drug lord, Tomás Bidarte. Bidarte has already wreaked havoc on some of those near and dearest to Walt. This, Walt decides, will be the last time Bidarte will cause anyone harm, if only he can survive breaching the drug king’s stronghold.
This story opens in Juárez with Walt meeting with the strange and mysterious Seer. Blind, with no legs beneath his knees, the hunchback seems to have powers and connections that might help Walt in his quest to rescue Cady. The Seer is just one of the colorful characters to join Walt on this journey into the heart of the wild, dangerous country south of the border.
Deep in the state of Chihuahua, not far from the Médanos de Samalayuca Nature Preserve, Bidarte has made a kingdom filled with misery and danger, where not even his own people are safe from his deadly whims. It is here Cady is being held, kept safe to lure Walt into Bidarte’s web of revenge.
Walt is set on going alone to get Cady home, but the FBI and other federal officials are determined to keep Walt in the U.S. so they can try to work with the government of Mexico to rescue Cady. Because Walt understands this is a personal matter and that the proverbial clock is ticking, he manages to slip over the border with the help of Buck Guzmán, a seasoned U.S. Border Patrol officer.
As Walt continues his mission, he must navigate through a country and culture where he has no knowledge of the lay of the land and understands the language even less. He has also been warned to trust no one. Despite his desperate situation, Walt still holds to his moral compass. It is this inability to sink to the level of his enemies that costs him a terrible price.
The action in “Depth of Winter” will keep readers on the edge of their seats. The pace varies from startlingly quick disasters to agonizingly slow fights that keep the pages flying by. The Johnson vividly paints the dramatic desert landscape and its inhabitants.
Johnson has expertly woven his narrative fiction with many fascinating facts about life in Mexico that is riddled by the deadly drug cartels. One character comments forlornly to Walt that in the past, if citizens weren’t involved in the drug trade, the cartels would leave them alone. Not true anymore. The cartels seem to revel in terrorizing entire towns. Another character tells Walt about the hundreds of young women who go missing every year.
Johnson has created a dramatic and forceful story that entertains and informs. His bad guys may be really bad, but they have problems, too. The phrase “being demoted” has a new meaning. Walt’s new sidekicks are memorable and will be missed when he returns north. But faithful readers will also welcome the return of Walt’s Wyoming “family” in the next installment of the Longmire series.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.