So this is my second visit with Walt Longmire, long-term Sheriff of a very small town in Wyoming. Everything that I liked about the first book, “The Cold Dish” continues to be present but gets richer with familiarity.
The main attraction is still being inside Walt’s head. He’s a smart, compassionate man, trying to do the right thing, not always sure what that is but willing to put in the effort to work it out. His sense of humour is as deep as his compassion. He’s prone to introspection with undertones of depression and from time to time needs to be rescued from the inside of his own head by friends who’ll make him act rather than just think and remember.
Walt’s closest friend ins Henry Standing Bear, Vietnam Vet and owner of the Red Pony bar. Henry is not a sidekick in the traditional sense. He’s Walt’s peer. They have similar (slightly frightening) abilities to see through lies and to use violence to deliver their version of justice. Their values and motivations overlap but are not exactly the same. In other words, they are friends. Not the Facebook type of friend that clicks approval but the face to face kind of friend who’s there when you need him.
The relationship between Walt and Henry is the bedrock on which the series is built, so, not surprisingly, Chapter One spends some time re-immersing us in how it works. Here’s how it starts:
“It was just after Thanksgiving and we had consumed the better part of single malt Scotch. When I woke up the next morning, Henry had already pulled a couple of leatherette chairs in front of a double fifty-gallon drum stove. I pushed off the sleeping bag and swung my legs over the side of the pool table on which I had fallen asleep and tried to feel the muscles in my face. He had hauled his bag with him and sat hunched over the stove.
I watched as steam blew out with my breath and I scrambled to get the down-filled bag back around me.
He turned his head and the dark eyes looked through the silver strands in the black curtain of his hair.
I joined him at the stove in my socks. The floor was cold and I regretted not slipping on boots.
‘Do you want some coffee?’
‘Then go and make some. I am the one who built the fire’.”
I think this is a good introduction to both men and to the style in which the novel is written. There is a friendship deep enough to afford silent companionship and humour that annotates their relationship and their shared understanding of the world.
The other person who casts light on Sheriff Longmire is his predecessor, Lucian, who hired Walt more than twenty years earlier. In the first book, Lucian came across to me as a relic of the old west: authoritarian, violent, intolerant and a law unto himself. In this book Walt learns more about who Lucian is and how he came to be that way and in the process, starts to see himself becoming the Lucian who hired him.
The title “Death Without Company” refer to the fate that befalls people who live without friends. In this case, the death is that of woman resident in the Durant Home for Assisted Living, where Lucian is also a resident.. Walt is called in to investigate the death after Lucian declares that the woman was murdered.
To figure out what is going on, Walt has to look into Lucian’s past and understand what happened to a young man who fell in love with a young Basque immigrant and the consequences it had for her and her family.
The tale is a dark and violent one that changed my perception of Lucian. He was who he needed to be at the time. Much as Walt is, except without the compassion.
The plot is a satisfying mix of past sins and current avarice delivering death to many of those involved. It gives a picture of how Wyoming used to be and makes Walt reflect on who he is.
There’s a lot of action in the book, including some great stand-alone scenes with Walt in peril. What I like about the action scenes is that they’re never the see-how-I-got-up-and-shrugged-off-being-hit-with-that-steel-bar kind of movie violence. These scenes are about struggle and threat and maybe not making it this time.
“Death Without Company” confirmed this as a must-read series for me. I’ll be listening to the audiobook version because George Guidall’s narration is a big part of my enjoyment. He gets squeezes every ounce of goodness out of the text and does it with no apparent effort.