Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson is the 15th book in his popular series featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire. Walt’s department is in Absaroka County in the wilds of rural Wyoming. His staff is a colorful and eclectic crew, reflecting Johnson’s expertise in creating memorable characters.
As this tale opens in late April, Walt and his potty-mouthed deputy, Victoria Moretti, are in the Bighorn mountains where snow is still covering the ground. They are watching two local representatives from the National Forest Service and the Wyoming Brand Inspectors examining a dead sheep. Dead domestic animals are a big deal to area ranchers. There are not supposed to be any wolves left in the area, but some ranchers are concerned that wolves are killing off their stock.
Recently, Walt has not been his regular self. In his previous book, “Depth of Winter,” Johnson had Walt locked in a life-or-death struggle to recover his kidnapped daughter, Cady, from the clutches of a ruthless drug lord. Walt nearly died. Besides not being well physically, he is having moments where he zones out. Everyone in his department is concerned about him, especially Vic, his love interest.
Walt and Vic head further into the mountains to find the sheepherder who is responsible for the sheep. While separated from Vic, Walt discovers a solitary wolf. This wolf is huge with a gray muzzle and has a transmitting collar. Walt is fascinated by the majesty of the wolf. To Walt, the wolf is mystical.
Shortly afterward, Walt meets Keasik Cheechoo, a woman working with the Wolf Conservancy in Montana. She informs Walt that he must have seen wolf No. 777M. She is interested in keeping the wolf alive and doesn’t want a panic to start. Locals tend to fear the large canines.
When Walt and Vic finally arrive at the camp of Miguel Hernandez, the sheepherder, they make a gruesome discovery, and. Hernandez is hanging from a tree and beside his being dead, it looks like something has been snacking on his feet. Walt must determine if this is a simple suicide, as it appears, or something more sinister.
It turns out that Hernandez worked for Abarrane Extepare, a Basque rancher with a mighty 15,000-acre spread. Abarrane, known as Abe, and his family have a well known history with the Absaroka Country Sheriff’s Department. When Walt informs him about the death of Hernandez, Abe is sanguine about the manner of his employee’s death.
The search begins in earnest to find the why and who has killed Hernandez. The search extends from Chile, Columbia and even Washington, D.C. To complicate Walt’s life further, a missing father also must be found by his department. In the middle of all the action, Walt foolishly pushes his recovering body with devastating results.
Johnson has crafted another compelling story with a cast of beloved characters. He peppers his stories with nuggets of literary facts that enrich his tales. This time, including how the moon got its name and the origin of lycanthropy, “a rare syndrome of delusion, where the subject thinks they can physically transform into some sort of animal, usually a wolf.” Another gem contains the story about the little known theft of the body of Buffalo Bill Cody.
Most enjoyable is Johnson’s dialogue. He manages to lace it with laid-back humor and uses verbal gymnastics to define his characters and their relationships. Reading a Walt Longmire story by Johnson is like returning home for a welcome visit and catching up with your best friend’s latest adventures.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.