‘As The Crow Flies’ has a classic Walt Longmire opening. The first chapter is filled with the patient, quiet, gentle, dry humour of the long friendship between Walt Longmire and Henry Standingbear as they struggle to find a new location for Katie’s wedding when the venue on the Reservation becomes unavailable at the last minute. There’s a strong sense of place, a feeling of family and the easy companionship that comes from doing something important but not too challenging. Then, just as I was relaxing with Walt and Henry, taking in the beauty of the landscape, they see someone die and everything changes.
For me, this captures the spirit of the Longmire stories: men doing their best, taking their ease where they can but always keeping a weather eye for the next piece of misery the world will throw their way.
In this case, most of the misery takes place over the state border and in tribal lands where Longmire has no jurisdiction. He ought to have no involvement. He ought to be focused on his daughter’s wedding. Yet he gets involved and stays involved because ‘ought’ doesn’t count for much when it goes against who you are.
There’s a clever little story in here that kept me guessing. We get a new strong woman for Longmire to bounce off, an ex-soldier who is now the Tribal Police Chief. She’s everything Longmire loves: fierce, driven, indomitable and just inexperienced enough that he has something to teach her. We go deeper into life on the Reservation and the see how the man in Tux who greats you at the Casino may also be the man in bucksking who guides who introduces himself as your guardian for the length of your Spirit Journey. you through a spirit journey. We get the return of an unconventional FBI man and we get some very tense action scenes.
Yet, it seemed to me that the central question of this book was, ‘Who is Walt Longmire?’.
In this book he seems to be a man who can’t stop putting being a Sheriff before being a father, even for his daughter’s wedding. We know from previous books how important Katie is to him and yet, as she points, out he has missed all the ceremonial occasions of her life by putting the job first. What does this say about him?
And what is it with Walt and Cheyanne / Crowe culture? It clearly calls to him. He’s incorporated its spirits and some of its rituals into his life. He seems more sympathetic to it than to the white culture he was born into. I don’t think he’s a wannabe-indian, flee his own culture to find refuge in a tailor-made, easy-fit version of First Nation culture where he can think well of himself. He’s a well-read man who is as strongly attached to Western thinkers and poets and novelists as he is to anything coming from the Cheyanne Nation.
I think that keeping the question, ‘Who Is Walt Longmire?’ at the centre of those novels is what gives them their strength. I think Walt knows the answer to the question and he knows the answer might change for better or worse. I think he’s a man who watches himself, not in a narcissistic I-have-to-find-myself sort of way but as a man who knows that watching himself is the only way to stopping himself from slipping into depression, anger and perhaps arrogance.
Which is why I’ll be back for the next Longmire book, whatever the plot is about.