Selected by LJ ROBERTS:

CRAIG JOHNSON – Land of the Wolves. Walt Longmre #15. Viking Press, hardcover, September 2019.

First Sentence:   Acknowledgements: Once, as a young man running fence for a rancher up near Dillon, Montana, I found myself stretching barbed wire over a rocky ridge, having ground-tied my horse below because his shod hooves weren’t too fond of the outcropping.

   An unusually large wolf is spotted by Walt. Is it the one suspected of killing sheep from a local herd? When Walt goes to find the herdsman, he found the man’s body and a question as to whether he committed suicide or was murdered. Ranchers want the wolf found and killed. A woman wants it saved as its DNA is unique. Henry Standing Bear believes it may be a messenger. Walt wants to solve the mystery of the herder, especially when another crime is committed.

   For those of us who read everything from the cover page on, the “Acknowledgements” should not be missed. There one will find what is essentially a true, short story as a lead to the actual story.

   Johnson transports readers into the environment of the story with rich, evocative passages and lush writing. Lest you fear he gets too flowery, it is balanced by his dialogue which is audible, natural, and tinged with the humor one has come to expect from this author and these characters. “‘Why is everyone treating me like a Fabergé egg?’ ‘After Mexico, all parties have decided that you need a little more adult supervision.’ … ‘Sancho follows me to the bathroom’ … ‘He’s taking his orders very seriously.'” ” Finally, there are always things one learns such as about ‘predator zones.’

   The element of mysticism, often a part of this series, adds a special touch to the story. Linking the wolf to Virgil White Buffalo, from prior books, and Henry Standing Bear telling about the spiritual relationship between a human and animals is worth considering in these times of environmental destruction.

   What is very interesting is that this is a Walt who is older, slower, still recovering from the injuries of his last case. It is also a slightly more vulnerable Walt, questioning his relationship with his daughter. Although is it hard to imagine in this time, there has always been a running joke about Walt not having a computer. That he finally receives one, due to the wonderful character of Ruby, Walt’s secretary, provides several delightful exchanges.

   Johnson includes fascinating information on a considerable number of topics. While these are interesting and do relate to the plot, after about the third occasion, it does begin to feel as though it is filler.

   Land of Wolves takes us back to Johnson’s earlier books, which is a very good thing, with his trademark humor, dialogue, interesting characters, and excellent plot twists.

Rating:   Good Plus.