Prather’s Pick: The Walt Longmire books

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According to the folks at Downtown Books in Craig, the Walt Longmire mystery series is popular — so popular that the books aren’t on the shelf very long.

Written by Craig Johnson, the series is about eight books in all. The leading character is Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. The books inspired the A&E television drama “Longmire.”

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Diane Prather

“Spirit of Steamboat,” this week’s Prather’s Pick, is a Walt Longmire story, but it isn’t one of the books in the series. In fact, it is a novella of about 146 pages. My husband, Lyle, a fan of the Longmire books, read this story in an afternoon when he was waiting for a load of hay to be delivered.

In the “Acknowledgment” section of the book, Johnson wrote that the novella isn’t “a mystery per se, but rather an adventure/thriller with mysterious elements.” It’s all of that and more; I found the rather surprising ending to be moving.

“Spirit of Steamboat” begins in Sheriff Walt Longmire’s office in Absaroka County, Wyo. It’s the day before Christmas, and Walt is reading “A Christmas Carol.” His dog, named “Dog,” is in the office with him.

Suddenly, Ruby, Walt’s dispatcher, announces that he has a visitor.

The young, dark-haired woman carries a garment bag. She seems to know Walt, but he doesn’t know her. She ignores the questions he has for her. Instead, she asks some herself. For one thing she inquires about Lucian Connally; she wants to see a photo of him.

Walt points out the photo of his predecessor, the High Sheriff Lucian A. Connally. The young woman says that she needs to see Lucian, and when she sees that it isn’t going to happen until she gives Walt more information, the woman finally explains that she has something to return to him.

So they go to the Durant Home for Assisted Living. Former Sheriff Lucian is a colorful character, indeed. When Walt and the young woman open his door they find him in boxer shorts and a T-shirt, minus his prosthetic leg, which he has misplaced. He slams the door in their faces and gets dressed for company, minus one cowboy boot, misplaced with his leg.

Lucian doesn’t know the young woman, either, so he asks her for a clue. There’s a whistle in her voice as she says one word: “Steamboat.”

The story shifts back to Dec. 24, 1988, and from this point to the Epilogue, Walt recalls the night that there was an auto accident near Billings, Montana that took the lives of three people and left one child. The child was badly burned and suffered complications from smoke inhalation. She could get help from only one place — Children’s Hospital in Denver.

A chopper pilot managed to get the child to Absaroka County but could go no further as a massive snowstorm was heading their way. Walt had to make a decision.

I enjoyed this book — a lot.

“Spirit of Steamboat” is published by Viking, the Penguin Group, 2013. I found it at Downtown Books. It is $20 in hardcover. If you are interested in reading the Walt Longmire series, check with Downtown Books. If they don’t have the books in stock, they can order them. My husband has read nearly all of the books in the series. He says that the books should be read in the order as one builds on the other.

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