Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"The Dark Horse"

Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire mysteries include The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished and Another Man’s Moccasins.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to the latest book in the series, The Dark Horse, and reported the following:
I think that page 69 is relatively representative of The Dark Horse, and a reader would be inclined to read on. The novel is something of a quintessential western and mystery in one with someone turning up dead in a small town (I think it’s about page six where Walt makes the observation that he should’ve taken into account the inherent difficulties of going undercover in a town of forty) and a stranger arrives and starts asking inconvenient questions. The Dark Horse is a novel about community, and what happens when community fails but it’s also a novel that concerns itself with the mythos of the American West and whether the dream is meant to be for all of us.

The scene on page 69 is actually one of my favorites in the novel; the scene where my sheriff protagonist is undercover in a motel room in a small town on the Powder River of northern Wyoming. The young woman he’s having a conversation with is a Guatemalan bartender from the adjacent bar who rented Walt the room at a discount price, since the toilet doesn’t work. He returns to the room that night to find someone in his bathroom, which turns out to be the illegal alien with an associate’s degree in criminal justice from a local community college, and proves to be more than a match for the sheriff.

I swallowed again, feeling the aspirins finally hit bottom. “Do I make you nervous?”

“No, but I don’t think you’re an insurance man.”

“What do you think I am?”

“A cop.”

I nodded. “How do you figure?”

She put the bottle of asprin on the bed and reached out to take my hat from my knee” When you’re a fugitive, you get a feeling for these things.” She examined the inside of the black fur felt: “7 3/4-Long oval. Ten X, H-Bar Hats, Billings.” The mahogany eyes, young, but deep stained with experience, looked back up at me. “If you’re federal, and I’m hoping you’re not, you flew into Montana and bought a hat so you could blend in—or you’re from the FBI field office in Billings or Cheyenne.”

I stared at her, the pain in my head resurging. “What, you taking a mail-order course in how to become a private investigator?”

“Almost two years of law enforcement classes at Sheridan College.” Both shoulders shrugged this time. “Ran out of money.” I sat there without saying anything. “You could be state, maybe an investigator from DCI, but they were already here.”

I nodded again. “You have a very active imagination.”

“Or you could be local, but I doubt it—the sheriffs around here couldn’t find their butts with GPS.”

As Sheriff Walt Longmire notes two pages later, “In town for eight hours, and already made by an associate degree.”
Read an excerpt from The Dark Horse, and learn more about the author and his work at Craig Johnson's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue