Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Junkyard Dogs"

Craig Johnson has received high praise for his Sheriff Walt Longmire novels The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man's Moccasins, and The Dark Horse, which received a superfecta of starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal, and was named one of Publishers Weekly's best books of the year (2009).

He applied the Page 69 Test to Junkyard Dogs, the sixth Walt Longmire mystery, and reported the following:
From the flap copy:
Missing body parts and dead developers are only the beginning when Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire finds himself in the throws of a modern day range war.
You have to realize that there’s going to be a lot of baggage with both a detective story and a western, but I think that’s where the humor comes in handy for not only pointing up those connections but poking a little fun at them as well. Junkyard Dogs is the sixth in the series, and I start all my novels with some sort of social issue at which I want to take a whack. I like to think that I’m writing socially oriented mysteries. The majority of my books get their seminal idea from a newspaper or magazine article which keeps the novels grounded in the culture of the American west. I refer to it as my ‘burr-under-the-saddle-blanket’ syndrome. I’ve found that dissatisfaction is great fuel for writing. Junkyard Dogs deals with the economy of the new west and the separation of the haves and have-nots. I set out to write this dire, frozen landscape of a pressure cooker in a small town in order to deal with the more venal aspects of human nature and something strange happened along the way—I came up with the funniest novel I’ve ever written.

A lot of the humor has to do with the characters and their relationships. At this point in the novel, Walt has learned that his high school civics (look it up, kids) teacher, Betty Dobbs, the mother of local developer Ozzie Jr., is having an affair with Geo Stewart who is the junkman; an incongruous relationship at best. Geo’s been taken to the hospital, and Walt has been feeding his animals at his house—just another kindly service provided by the Absaroka County sheriff’s office. When he returns to his vehicle, he finds his under-sheriff, Victoria Morretti, leaning against his windshield “like one of those women you see at car shows reclining on the hoods of cars—that is, if those women wore 17-shot Glocks and attitude”…
“Doc Bloomfield said you’d gone to feed those dire wolves of Geo Stewart’s, and I thought they must’ve gotten you in­stead, so I came out here.”

“Somebody had already fed them.”

She glanced in the direction of the peaked gables, just vis­ible over the crest of the ridge. “It wouldn’t happen to have been Betty ‘Petty’ Dobbs, would it?”

I made a face. “How did you know that?”

“Her son, Tweedledum, called in a missing persons.”


She studied me and smiled, revealing the canine tooth that was just a shade longer than the others. “Is there more to this story?”

Vic loved dish, so I pulled my hat off and rested my fore­head on her thigh—I was the picture of abject despair. “Betty Dobbs, my seventh-grade English/civics teacher, is having an affair with Geo Stewart.”

Her leg jumped, my head bounced, and I looked up at her as she covered her mouth with a hand. “Get the fuck out of here; Daughter of the American Revolution, P.E.O., Who’s Who, grand matron of Redhills Rancho Arroyo is shtupping the junkman?”

“I think Municipal Solid Waste Facility Engineer is the title he prefers.”

“Ozzie Junior is going to prefer to put a bullet in his un­washed ass. Is he aware?”

I put my hat back on. “Who?”



“Can I tell him?”
The page is almost exclusively dialogue between Walt and Vic, which is something I enjoy. The contrast between their two voices, his rural/hers urban is pretty definitive of not only the book, but of the series as a whole. The novels are in Walt’s first-person voice, and I knew that there was going to be a preponderance of masculinity so I thought I better counter-balance that with some really strong female characters—predominantly Vic. Sister of four brothers in the Philadelphia PD, father who’s a chief of detectives—she has to be twice as tough and twice as good at her job to be noticed half as much. Of course, a lot of this goes back to that pre-conceived baggage of western and mystery writing. I think it helps the novels to have that one, very urban and bitingly humorous voice.

I think page 69 of Junkyard Dogs is representative of the book, and I’ve got to admit that I’d want to read some more.
Read an excerpt from Junkyard Dogs, and learn more about the author and his work at Craig Johnson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Kindness Goes Unpunished.

My Book, The Movie: The Cold Dish.

The Page 69 Test: The Dark Horse.

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

--Marshal Zeringue