Craig Johnson has recently released his 16th Walt Longmire novel, “Next To Last Stand.”
Walt is the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. It is rural and wild. His department is populated with colorful characters. Walt’s undersheriff, a loose cannon, is Victoria “Vic” Moretti, also his significant other. Henry Standing Bear, a member of the Cheyenne Nation, has been his best friend since they were kids. Ruby, the dispatcher, runs Walt and his department with a velvet glove. Reading each new adventure is like a reunion with old friends.
Johnson’s inspiration for “Next To Last Stand” was driven by a slice of Americana and a historic event that took place near his home during the 19th century. This journey starts with the Battle of the Little Big Horn, or as Native Americans call it, the Battle of Greasy Grass.
In 1884, Anheuser-Busch commissioned a painting by Cassilly Adams depicting the famous battle that became known as Custer’s Last Fight. It was turned into prints that have hung in many bars and saloons throughout the West.
As Johnson’s fans are aware, the author cannot resist infusing each and every Longmire saga with fun facts, trivia and, especially, history.
Readers will learn about many different aspects of the battle and its aftermath. One important event was the construction of Fort McKinney near the battlefield. It was built to protect against the threat of more attacks by Native Americans but, as it turned out, it wasn’t needed. In the book, Johnson uses this setting for the Veterans Home of Wyoming.
It is summer and Walt is called to the veterans’ home by the sad fact that one of its residents has died. Charley Lee Stillwater, one of the Wavers, has died. The Wavers are the veterans who roll their wheelchairs down to the entrance near the highway and wave enthusiastically at passing cars. The Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines are well-represented by Kenny, Clifton, Ray and Delmar all using their souped-up electric wheelchairs.
Walt and his daughter, Cady, were friends and fans of Charley. When Carol, the home’s administrator, went to clear some things out of Charley’s room, she made some startling discoveries. One item especially made her contact Walt in his official capacity. It was a shoebox filled with a million dollars worth of bills. As they search his room, they find other items that lead Walt into the world of historical art, artists and collectors. One interesting discovery is a small oil painting depicting a soldier and a Native American in a life-threatening battle.
As Walt tries to make sense of the painting, whether it is real or valuable, wild stories begin to surface about Charley’s past. Meanwhile, the home is having little luck finding next of kin. Walt is fascinated and driven by the painting, sensing that it is an important find. Soon, his questions lead into a spiral of violence.
In the previous book that took place in Mexico, Walt suffered some major injuries. In “Next To Last Stand,” Walt is still not at 100%, and as he pursues his “lawman’s intuition,” he endures even more injuries as he fights for his life.
“Next To Last Stand” is a real page-turner with a lot of action. Johnson inserts and weaves in fascinating subplots and he showcases his mastery at creating a great cast of characters. Even those who have minimal time in the action are well defined and memorable. Johnson also has a way of including humor in asides that add to readers’ enjoyment.
This is a welcome addition to the adventures of Walt Longmire. There’s only one problem – the wait for the next book.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.