Walt Longmire is the sheriff in the least-populated county in the least-populated state in the country.Yet the per capita crime rate in Wyoming’s Absaroka County is shockingly high.That’s why Craig Johnson, author of the bestselling Longmire mysteries, has sent Walt to neighboring Campbell County in Any Other Name.The wry sheriff’s new case, involving a police detective’s suicide and a search for three missing women, is Johnson’s attempt to keep from further inflating Absaroka’s alarming statistics.Still, people are noticing the numbers.“I’ve been asked to do a talk with the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs,” says Johnson, who lives on a ranch in Ucross, Wyo., population 25. “What was funny was they wrote the letter to Walt.“It said, ‘Dear Walt Longmire. We’d like you to come speak to our spring meeting and explain to us why it is that you’re the most popular Wyoming sheriff in America, yet there are more people killed in your county than in the rest of the whole state!’“I’d love to write a book where nobody gets killed and Walt just plays pinochle on his desk, but I don’t think anybody would buy it or read it.”We talked with Johnson last week about the new novel, which is action-packed and won’t disappoint. You are one of the few mystery writers working today who can plausibly put his hero in the middle of a buffalo stampede or have him rescuing a damsel from a moving train. Do you have as much fun writing these stories as your fans have reading them?“I hope readers are having fun. I have to tell you, though, it was really hard to write that scene with the buffalo herd without having Roger Miller’s song in my head. Finally, I just had to reference it. Just had to. It was too there. So Walt tells this young patrolman out of Deadwood not to put on his roller skates. And the kid doesn’t even know the song, which is a tragedy unto itself.” One of the places Walt and Lucian Connally visit is a cafe called Aces & Eights. Is that a sly nod to A&E, the network that airs the popular TV version of Longmire (Season 3 begins June 2)?“You’ve caught me. I’m always trying to see what I can get by the readers. Another one that I did in an earlier book was Walt musing about who would play him in the movie version of his life and he refers to the old Robert Taylor, the movie star from the 1940s and ’50s. Our Robert Taylor, the one who plays Walt on TV, got a good laugh out of that.” What was the genesis of Any Other Name? Was there a newspaper headline about a detective’s suicide or missing girls that captured your imagination?“It was kind of a combination of the two. Law enforcement is one of those businesses where you have a surprisingly high suicide rate. You read about them in the papers all the time. I was curious to know what kind of situation would put an officer in that position.“As for the case of missing people, there’s a statistic that’s pretty darned frightening that I quote in the book, that something like a quarter of a million people go missing every year.” What’s the one question that readers ask you more than any other?“It might be, ‘Why doesn’t Walt carry a cellphone?’ I’ll concede that there are times when it would be very useful. But my immediate response is it wouldn’t do him any good most of the time, because Wyoming generally doesn’t have any kind of cell service. It’s not like living in New York or Los Angeles or even Dallas. There’s still a lot more open territory here.” What got you in the crime thriller business in the first place? And why a Wyoming sheriff?“The first book, The Cold Dish, was supposed to be a stand-alone book. I had this idea about a young girl with fetal alcohol syndrome on the reservation who’s taken into a basement and taken advantage of by four young men who get off with suspended sentences and then start turning up dead one by one, shot with a Sharps buffalo rifle.“I started thinking, ‘What can I do that would be different from what everybody else is doing?’ At that point, 10 years ago, CSI stuff was especially popular. Everything was so technically oriented: DNA testing and ballistics and forensics and all of that stuff.“So I thought, ‘What if my story takes place in the least-populated county in the least-populated state in America and focuses more on character and place and the social implications of rural law enforcement?’ I guess it was a good call, because people seem to like what I’m doing.” Is there much of Longmire in you, much you in Longmire?“Walt is really good company. He’s fun to be around. He’s intelligent. He’s got a good sense of humor. He’s well-read. He’s kind and decent. He doesn’t back away from anything. He’s a good riding partner — and a good writing partner.“As for if I’m like the character, my wife had the best comment about that. She said, ‘Walt is who Craig would like to be in about 10 years. It’s just that he’s off to an incredibly slow start.’ ”
Any Other Name
by Craig Johnson
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Meet the author
Craig Johnson will discuss and sign his new book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Dallas Barnes & Noble, 7700 W. Northwest Highway; 214-739-1124.