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20 Books of Summer #18: The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson – Longmire #5

September 16, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson (2009) French title: Dark Horse. Translated by Sophie Aslanides.

Dark horse: noun

1 a: a usually little-known contender (as a racehorse) that makes an unexpectedly good showing. B: an entrant in a contest that is judged unlikely to succeed.

2: A person who reveals little about himself or herself, esp. someone who has unexpected talents or skills.

The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson is the fifth volume of the Longmire series of crime fiction books set in Wyoming. I was happy to read the definition of dark horse because it explains a lot about the title and how fitting and multilayered the book is.

In this volume, Sheriff Sandy Sandberg of the Campbell county transferred his prisoner Mary Barsad to the jail in Absaroka county, Longmire’s jurisdiction.

In appearance, it’s a straightforward case. Wade Barsad was found dead with six bullets in his body. He and his wife Mary owned a ranch where she raises horses. She used to compete in racehorses and is very attached to her horse, Black Diamond Wahoo Sue.

Wade had set the horses’ barn on fire before going to bed, while the horses were trapped in the building, burning them alive. Incredibly cruel. Mary confessed that she killed him for this. See, straightforward.

But, locked in Longmire’s jail, Mary refuses to eat and the sheriff starts interacting with her to coax her into eating her meals. Things don’t add up and Longmire goes undercover in the town of Absalon, 40 souls to investigate this murder.

Being undercover in Wyoming and in a town of 40 inhabitants is a challenge. It turns out Wade has made enemies in town, due to shady dealings.

He came from the West coast, knew nothing about ranching still purchased a ranch. Longmire remarks: “He hated animals, and he hated the West? That kind of strikes me as odd for a fella who buys a ranch in Wyoming.”

What pushed Wade Barsad to settle in Wyoming? Why did have to move?

Did Mary really kill him? Longmire is on the killer’s trail while digging into Wade’s past and business to understand what lead to his death.

As usual with this series, the sense of place makes the salt of the book. Details like this one when Longmire arrives at a bridge that workers are dismantling, contribute to the feeling.

I topped the hill and pulled the gunmetal Lincoln Town Car alongside the Pratt truss structure. There weren’t very many of them in the Powder River country, and the few bridges that were left were being auctioned off to private owners for use on their ranches.

Apparently, even old bridges can be monetized and auctioned. I’m always surprised by the deals made between the State and the people on practical matters. It probably is better for the State’s budget to sell the bridge than to cover the costs for destroying it. It’s like asking the ranchers to cut the grass along the roads to keep it for their cattle. It’s such a different mentality than the French one.

Johnson always aims at deconstructing western clichés, like here:

“You know, one of the worst images perpetrated on society is the idea of a cowboy with a gun—you give a real cowboy a choice between a gun and a rope and he’ll take the rope every time, because that’s how he makes his living. No self-respecting cowboy makes a living with a gun.”

I guess it makes sense.

I won’t go into details about the personal lives of the characters, to avoid spoilers. Longmire’s daughter Cady is back to her life in Philadelphia, the election for sheriff is coming up and Longmire’s right arm Vic is true to herself.

I read The Dark Horse in the car, during a long drive during the holidays and it was a perfect Beach & Public Transport book. Tight plot, charming characters, a good sense of humor and little reflections dropped here and there:

I thought about how we tilled and cultivated the land, planted trees on it, fenced it, built houses on it, and did everything we could to hold off the eternity of distance—anything to give the landscape some sort of human scale. No matter what we did to try and form the West, however, the West inevitably formed us instead.

My next Craig Johnson will be Junkyard Dogs.

PS : Another ugly cover for the English edition. It looks like a kid’s book.

  1. September 16, 2020 at 7:22 pm

    I’m going to start watching the series soon, and I agree about that cover; it’s awful.

    Like

    • September 16, 2020 at 9:26 pm

      I heard the series is not as good as the book but it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the books.

      Like

  2. September 16, 2020 at 8:56 pm

    I like the idea of someone undercover in such a small place, it’s a really interesting set-up. Agree about the cover – horrible.

    Like

    • September 16, 2020 at 9:28 pm

      Yes it’s a fun set up but not as good as Salem’s crime book where he sends his hitman on a mission in a nudist campsite. His fist issue is to conceal his gun. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. buriedinprint
    September 25, 2020 at 5:00 pm

    Oooh, I’m so glad to hear your thoughts on these books. I absolutely love the TV series, but have never heard anyone comment on the relationship between written stories/filmed episodes until now. I wonder if the people who have complained to you about the show expect more of a conventional murder mystery pacing…these episodes are very slow to unspool, there are a lot of atmospheric shots of the landscape and settings, and long pauses around complicated issues that are portrayed more by facial expressions than dialogue. Obviously not to everyone’s taste, but I love it. (The episode which focuses on this particular story was so sad.)

    Like

    • September 25, 2020 at 5:16 pm

      They said the books are better, more atmospheric.
      If you love the series I really really recommend the books. And start them in the right order.

      Like

  1. October 14, 2020 at 2:00 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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