There’s a subset of the mystery genre called the “cozy” that features genteel detectives and killers and then there’s the type of mystery I like to call a “crusty.” These stories feature a cop or investigator – usually middle-aged or older – who would rather be hunting or fishing and drinking a couple of beers than solving crimes. These guys are often loners, maybe even misanthropes, but often have a small group of cohorts on whom they can depend. They’re usually softies at heart but show it only through their affection for their grown children or dogs.
There might be no better representative of the crusty right now than Walt Longmire, the Wyoming sheriff who is the central character in a series of mysteries written by Craig Johnson. The first is “The Cold Dish” and the latest is “Hell is Empty.”
Longmire is sheriff in the kind of town where everybody knows everybody else’s business but rarely sticks their nose in it. He’s no spring chicken. The series is set in the present day but Longmire is a Vietnam vet, and at least one of the mysteries springs from his time as an investigator there.
Although he’s a loner – living in house mostly unfinished since the death of his wife – Longmire has friends, including Henry Standing Bear and Victoria, his big-city born deputy and sometime love interest. His daughter and his dog further humanize him.
Johnson, who lives in a town of 25 in Wyoming, writes clear and concise stories that draw you in immediately. While they’re crime novels not unlike those that Robert B. Parker wrote, there’s enough of the feel of a western to them to appeal to fans of that genre.
Inspired, no doubt, by the success of the Elmore Leonard-based crime drama “Justified” on FX, the A&E cable network is making a “Longmire” movie starring Robert Taylor as Longmire, “Battlestar Galactica” star Katee Sackhoff as Vic – inspired casting there – and Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry.
They’ve de-aged the characters a bit for the movie but if they hit the kind of solemn tone that CBS has found with its adaptations of Parker’s Jesse Stone books, they could have a winner. I’ll be watching and I’ll be reading Johnson’s terrific series of books.