“No good deed goes unpunished” (Oscar Wilde)
Those who think that Craig Johnson’s Longmire series, about Sheriff Walter Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming, are not Westerns are going to have their views confirmed by volume 3 of the saga, Kindness Goes Unpunished (Viking Penguin, 2007), because in it Walt, Henry Standing Bear and Vic Moretti (and even Dog) all decamp to the City of slightly less than Brotherly Love and the book is really a hard-boiled urban crime drama.
Still, if I tell you that the final pages have Walt and Henry mounted on paint horses chasing down the villain with forty-fives, like some overweight Lone Ranger and a rather bossy Tonto, you will agree that Walt manages to bring just a bit of the West to Philadelphia. There is a cowboy-and-Indian theme running through it and Walt has to decipher Indian clues to solve the mystery.
For daughter Cady – a lawyer in Philly; that’s why Walt went there – has been attacked and lies in a coma at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and having no jurisdiction there will not stop her dad finding out who did it. Henry is there to exhibit those Mennonite photographs from volume 2, and he and Walt drive there from Wyoming in Lola, the powder-blue 1950s Ford Thunderbird (which gets, er, slightly damaged in a car chase).
New characters are Vic’s family, the Moretti clan, 99% of whom seem to be police, and Walt dallies with Vic’s mother – though finally consummates his interest in Vic as well. At least Vic isn’t married to the Philadelphia police chief, so it’s probably safer.
Well, The Wire it ain’t but there are plenty of drug-related lowlifes to combat and mucho shootin’ to match the rootin' and the tootin’.
I like these books and Walt in his cowboy boots and Stetson give me hope that the West is not dead and gone but alive and well, even if living (temporarily) in Pennsylvania.
There’s slightly more Native American mumbo-jumbo than I like but I can live with it.
Western fans will pick up references to Have Gun, Will Travel (page 36), Audie Murphy (page 83) and The Lone Ranger (page 275).
Kindness Goes Unpunished is a must-read if you are into the series but moderately missable if you are just a hopeless dyed-in-the-wool Westernista. If, like me, you appreciate hard-boiled detective drama and police procedurals as well as Westerns, this would definitely repay a visit to your local bookstore. Writers like Elmore Leonard and Robert B Parker understood very well the similarities between the two genres, and Craig Johnson does too.