Sheriff Walt Longmire would rather face down a criminal than deliver bad news to his only daughter, Cady. With her wedding only two weeks away, the Wyoming Sheriff is unhappy to discover that the Cheyenne Reservation has bumped Cady from her chosen nuptials site. But while Walt scrambles to find an alternative, the call of justice—not to mention an ornery tribal police chief—draws him away from wedding planning and into a very ugly investigation.
Upon learning that Crazy Head Springs is no longer available for Cady’s wedding, Walt’s best friend, Henry Standing Bear, suggests Painted Warrior as an alternative. As the pair contemplates the location’s majestic cliffs, someone falls from the summit, and they hear “the liquid thump of the body striking the ground” (p. 21). Walt and Henry rush to the scene but, within minutes, the young woman who fell is dead and Lolo Long—the reservation’s beautiful but prickly new police chief and Iraq war veteran—has shanghaied Walt into helping with the investigation. Walt is unsure whether the young woman’s death was an accident, a suicide, or a homicide. But Lolo is certain that the young woman, Audrey Plain Feather, a one–time friend of hers, was murdered and is soon butting heads with the FBI agents who threaten to take the case away from her. Acutely aware of her own limitations, Lolo asks Walt to help her find the killer. Walt’s own conscience won’t let him walk away—even as he ignores Cady’s numerous phone calls and the wedding venue is still up in the air.
It’s a tricky situation. Walt has no authority on the reservation and can rely only upon his good reputation to enlist the aid of the locals. Moreover, suspects are plentiful and guilty of assorted crimes, including assault, poaching, theft, drug dealing, and statutory rape—if not murder. When the case’s two prime suspects—Audrey’s husband Clarence Last Bull and the hot–headed Artie Small Song—go missing, Walt turns the reservation upside down trying to find them. Then another body turns up just before Cady is due to arrive in town. This time, Walt knows for certain that a murderer is on the loose.
In As the Crow Flies, Walt Longmire finds himself torn between personal responsibilities and professional duties. Thoughtful and action–packed, Craig Johnson’s latest is sure to please the many readers who are making Walt Longmire the most popular lawman in the West.
ABOUT CRAIG JOHNSON
Craig Johnson lives with his wife, Judy, in Ucross, Wyoming, population twenty–five.
A CONVERSATION WITH CRAIG JOHNSON
Q. What was your initial inspiration for As the Crow Flies?
I spend quite a bit of time up on the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations, and they are strange and wonderful places full of some magnificent people. I am concerned with the ongoing problems of veterans in their reintroduction into society and thought “the Rez,” with its high percentage of individuals who serve, would provide a good background. There was also the rising specter of Cady’s wedding looming on the horizon, and I thought it was a good opportunity to get her and Walt and most important, Henry, back on the Rez.
Q. You seem to know quite a lot about Native American history. Was this a subject that interested you even before you became a novelist?
You know the old joke about how you get sixty–four Cherokees together and you’ve got a whole Indian. My grandfather, who was a blacksmith, was Cherokee and even though I look like the poster child for the IRGP (Indian Recessive Gene Pool), I’ve always felt a kinship with the Indian approach to things.
The Indians are a big part of where I live—an important, vital history of the high plains. All the other people have family that date back a couple hundred years in this country; the Indians, on the other hand, have been here for a lot longer. Native history has always been an interest of mine, but it is very often written by white people, so it’s the oral histories, the small stories that come from people’s mouths, not the big, textbook histories, that interest me.
Q. What kind of books do you like to read? Who is your favorite underrated writer at work today?
Brady Udall, the author of The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint and The Lonely Polygamist is a joy to, along with the working–class guys like Daniel Woodrell, Willie Vlautin, Frank Bill, Bruce Machart, and Donald Ray Pollock; their views on things tend to be a little darker than mine, but I enjoy their craftsmanship and their honesty. I don’t quantify my reading, but rather, just look for good writing—that leads me all over the literary terrain and into literary fiction, nonfiction, historical, and even poetry.
Q. Early on in the novel, Walt quotes Lolo some rather startling statistics about the number of police officers who accidentally shoot themselves. Did you make these up for the book, or are accidents really that common?
They’re true; frightening, huh? Like Walt says, don’t get me started on the common populace . . .
Q. Walt fought in the Vietnam War and Lolo served in Iraq. Do you think being a veteran makes a person better suited for a career in law enforcement?
Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt. The training and the experience of being in the military provide a framework of skills that are very difficult for the private sector to compete with—it’s kind of like how most commercial pilots have military experience simply because it would be difficult to log the number of flight hours you’d need without it. In the service, especially if deployed, you’re going to be in extreme situations that you might never encounter in personal/professional life, and those experiences are extremely valuable in law enforcement.
Q. “I was always surprised by the way the Indians referenced me through my deceased wife” (p.105). Do the Cheyenne always refer to the living vis–à–vis their dead?
In most Indian cultures you are your ancestors, so it goes back even further than that, but I think in this instance it’s just that Martha was a reference for Walt into the Indian world—she cut a wide swath before her death and Walt is continually reminded of her.
Q. Is the religious use of peyote still common within the Native American community? Were you drawing upon your own experiences to describe Walt’s inner journey during the peyote ceremony?
Yes, it is still common—and no, I can neither confirm nor deny my experiences concerning the use of peyote . . .
Q. Longmire, an A&E series based on your novels, is premiering in 2012. How involved are you with the production? Can you share any details about the show?
For Longmire, it was an interesting but pretty straightforward path. I’d been advised by friends in Hollywood to not option my work outright to one individual, be it an actor or a producer, but rather to attempt to get a “package deal” with a studio, with producers, a director, and writers already in place.
While making the rounds, an agent from CAA contacted my literary agent in New York and asked her if she had any books that were very strong on character—not just mystery, but any books. My agent pulled a copy of my first novel, The Cold Dish, from the shelf behind her and laid it on the desk between them. The agent from CAA wanted to know if there were any others, and my agent responded, “Not until you read that one.” I was lucky enough to have CAA assemble a team from the Shephard–Robin Company that had been involved with the production of shows like The Closer, Nip/Tuck and a number of others. With the backing of Warner Horizon, they were able to put together a smart script that captured the characters, place, and tone of my novels. It was two years in the process, but it was picked up and ordered to a full season, which is set to premiere on A&E this summer (2012).
I was made an executive creative consultant, and have pretty much been in the loop for the entire process. They flew me in for the three–week filming of the pilot episode, emailed me the scripts to go over, and even sent me DVDs of the auditions for the actors they were considering for the roles. I don’t think my experiences have been the norm.
Q. Despite his earlier plans to retire, Walt has kept his job as sheriff. Has he put the idea of retirement on the back burner for good?
Not really. Walt pretty much established a plan for getting Vic elected by retiring halfway through his next term and abdicating, allowing her the opportunity to sheriff for a few years without having to campaign in a general election. One of the complications, though, is the addition of Santiago Saizarbitoria with his similarities to Walt and his Basque heritage which make him a very viable candidate. So, we’ll see.
Q. Where might Walt be headed to next?
The next novel concerns a case of a runaway boy and a missing woman from a polygamy compound in the southern portion of Absaroka County. It has an undercurrent of King Lear but starts out relatively straightforward; then things get complicated.
- (Spoiler Warning: Plot points may be revealed)
- Both Lolo Long and Clarence Last Bull suffer from Post–Traumatic Stress Disorder. They deal with it in distinctly different ways, but neither one with much success. How could the government best help veterans return to civilian life?
- Mrs. Small Song calls Lolo a red snake for serving “in the white man’s army” (p. 84). Considering the way Native Americans have been treated historically, what allegiance—if any—do they owe to the American government?
- A priest told Mrs. Small Song that “the peyote was a church and [she] could not go to two churches” (p.107) so the Cheyenne woman stopped going to the Christian church. How might the priest have handled the situation differently?
- Were you surprised by Walt’s willingness to participate in the tribe’s peyote ritual? Do you believe that the peyote caused his visions, or was there a more spiritual force at work as well?
- Who or what did the talking bear and crow represent for Walt?
- “As the crow flies” is a common way of indicating the shortest distance between two points. Discuss Craig Johnson’s use of the phrase as this novel’s title.
- “That would be the chief: broke from giving all his money away and broken down from running food from home to home and providing a sounding board to the people’s miseries. This is not to say that the Old Man Chiefs had no power—their word was final on any subject of contention because they had proven beyond question that they had the people’s best interests at heart” (p. 115). Who amongst our current political leaders might still be committed to public service if they were rewarded in a similar fashion?
- Why does Erma Stoltzfus deny seeing Clarence?
- In a nod to Sherlock Holmes and his Baker Street Irregulars, Henry’s Birney Road Irregulars are the only ones to really help Walt find Clarence. Do most adults realize just how much kids are paying attention to their actions?
- Walt tells Lolo that his wife, Martha, announced her pregnancy by saying, “People have been screwing this up for thousands of years; I guess it’s our turn” (p. 204). Is Walt a good father?
- Lolo’s son, Danny, is five–years–old and has spent almost his entire life apart from his mother. Do you think it’s harder for a child to grow up without a parent or close to one who is as deeply troubled as Lolo?
- Craig Johnson closes the novel with Cady’s wedding. How does this loving scene frame the violence that precedes it?