Craig Johnson’s sequel to his successful THE COLD DISH which introduced Absaroka County Sheriff Walter Longmire is entitled DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY. Many of the same characters reappear including retired Sheriff Lucian Connally, who resides at the Durant Home for Assisted Living, Longmire’s constant foil, Victoria (Vic) Moretti, Henry Standing Bear, Longmire’s closest friend since childhood and owner of the Red Pony Bar, as well as Ruby, the person who is really in charge of Longmire’s office, and Cady, Longmire’s daughter who was an attorney in Philadelphia. Johnson introduces a few new characters, the most important of which are newly hired deputy Santiago Saizarbitoria, and “dog,” Longmire’s new companion that he never got around to giving a name.
The current Longmire episode begins with the seemingly routine death of Mari Baroja at the Durant Home for Assisted Living. A seemingly normal occurrence at the facility turns out to be a possible investigation as it appears that Lucian was once married to Baroja for three hours over fifty years ago. It seemed the two ran off to get married at a young age when Baroja’s Basque father and uncles had the marriage annulled. The first part of the book is dominated by the question, what was Lucian hiding, and why?
Johnson’s empathy for the historical plight of Native-Americans seems to drip off of each page. His constant references to their treatment by the US government and life on the “rez” (reservation) is present in character dialogue and background descriptions providing the reader with an accurate picture of Native-American life. Johnson is a very nuanced and descriptive writer as he is able to set a scene and comfortably places the reader among the characters, i.e., Lucian’s ruminations of his past life.
The first third of the book is spent reacquainting old reader or acquainting new readers with the main characters and how they interact, and the dynamics of the Baroja’s family, particularly when it emerges that they control a great deal of methane production on the Four Brothers Ranch which they own – production that is worth millions. All the evidence points to Mari’s death as one of natural causes, until a lab report that she had been poisoned by naphthalene, an ingredient in moth balls. It turns out that Mari was susceptible to this poison and Lucian’s insistence that she did not die of natural causes finally rings true. Further evidence of foul play is obvious when Mari’s doctor, the Holocaust survivor Isaac Brumfield is involved in a car accident and is almost killed. Further, Mari’s granddaughter Lana is attacked in her bakery, but survives. It turns out that Mari was worth millions and had changed her will fourteen times, the last being a few days before she died, and it appears that the case may also rest on a missing can of Metamucil.
From this point on Longmire is in full investigative mode. He relies on Standing Bear and Vic, his deputy to gather information and evidence concerning family members as it appears they have the most to gain. He also uses his daughter’s legal expertise as she arrives in the midst of events to celebrate Christmas. In so doing we learn a great deal of the history of how dysfunctional the Baroja family was, especially once the will is read and it appears the largest portion of Mari’s wealth went to her granddaughter Lana, and her twin daughters Kay and Carol receiving substantially less.
Johnson’s current effort, along with the television series “Longmire” are superb entertainment. They reflect the avarice of human nature, excellent plot development, and twisted and surprising endings. I recommend the entire series, both video and the printed word and look forward to KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED, the next installment in the Longmire saga.