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Quais du polar #2 : Death Without Company by Craig Johnson

March 12, 2016 13 comments

Death Without Company by Craig Johnson (2006) French title: Le camp des morts. (Translated by Sophie Aslanides)

A life without friends means death without company (Basque proverb)

Quais_polar_logoDeath Without Company is the second volume of the Longmire series by Craig Johnson. I wrote a billet about Little Bird, the first volume here. The novel opens with a piece of everyday life as a sheriff in Durant, Absaroka County, Wyoming. We follow Walt Longmire on duty. The one and only gravedigger gives him a crash course on burial and how in the old days, they had to put a fire for several hours to defrost the ground and bury folks who were inconsiderate enough to die in the Wyoming winter. Then Walt goes back to Durant where he had left [his] erstwhile deputy to shanghai prospective jurors for the local judicial system. Poor Vic is on the parking lot of the supermarket, enrolling  jurors.Longmire’s entire staff is reduced to Vic, the assistant Ruby and deputy Jim Ferguson who only works part time. Turk left for the motorway patrol and Longmire hires Santiago Saizarbitoria as a replacement.

Longmire visits his mentor, the former sheriff Lucian Connally at least one a week at the local nursing home. This time, Mari Baroja, a resident of the home was found dead. Lucian is certain that she has been murdered and convinces Longmire to ask for an autopsy. To his astonishment, Longmire discovers that Mari Baroja and sheriff Connally eloped and were briefly married in their youth and that Mari’s family had it annulled. Lucian got beaten up for that and Mari was married off to Charlie Nurburn. The marriage was unhappy and Nurburn suddenly disappeared and nobody ever heard from him. Did he start a new life somewhere else? Longmire realizes that Lucian and Mari had kept in touch all their lives, meeting up once a week in Durant.

Who would want Mari dead? Longmire investigates her death that becomes more and more personal because of his relationship with Lucian.

Johnson_camp_mortsJohnson embarks the reader on an investigation that manages to mix a longlasting love relationship, several murders, a trip in to the past and a glimpse into Wyoming’s present with the exploitation of shale gas that turns farmers into wealthy people. At the same time, we still follow Longmire’s personal life. His daughter comes to visit from Philadelphia, his love life is in shambles and he can count on his best friend Henry Standing Bear to look after him. We learn more about Wyoming’s history and the presence of a Basque community. I had never heard of a Basque immigration to the USA, so I looked into a bit into it.

This is exactly why Johnson’s novels work for me. He has an incredible sense of place, he brings Wyoming to you. He draws charming and catching characters who are flawed but not too much. He creates an intricate plot that remains plausible and keeps you wondering what will be next. The pace of the novel suits the atmosphere. It’s rather slow to accommodate the Wyoming winter –you can’t drive fast when the roads are covered with ice and snow– and the local ways. The place is rather isolated, you just learn to be patient if you want something that’s not available locally. It was a pleasure to be back to Durant, a small town in the Absaroka County, Wyoming. Despite the freezing temperatures in this novel set around Thanksgiving in a cold climate, the novel is warm. And it all comes from the characters’ acceptance of other people’s flaws and quirks. Longmire isn’t judgmental and he sees a person’s humanity before anything else. That makes him a likeable character.

Craig Johnson will be present at Quais du Polar at the beginning of April. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to talk to him. I will read the next volume of Longmire’s adventures.

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