Book Review: Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson

November 7, 2013 Book Reviews 0

Book Review: Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire,
Genres: Crime, Mystery
Published by Viking Pages: 146
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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Also in this series: A Serpent's Tooth

It’s a question of what you have to do, what you have to live with if you don’t.”

Sheriff Walt Longmire is reading A Christmas Carol in his office on December 24th when he’s interrupted by the ghost of Christmas past: a young woman with a hairline scar across her forehead and more than a few questions about Walt’s predecessor, Lucian Connally. Walt doesn’t recognize the mystery woman, but she seems to know him and claims to have something she must return to Connally. With his daughter, Cady, and his undersheriff Vic Moretti in Philadelphia for the holidays, Walt is at loose ends, and despite the woman’s reticence to reveal her identity, he agrees to help her.

At the Durant Home for Assisted Living Lucian Connally is several tumblers into his Pappy Van Winkle’s and swears he’s never clapped eyes on the woman before. Disappointed, she whispers “Steamboat” and begins a story that takes them all back to Christmas Eve 1988, when three people died in a terrible crash and a young girl had the slimmest chance of survival . . . back to a record– breaking blizzard, to Walt’s first year as sheriff, with a young daughter at home and a wife praying for his safety . . . back to a whiskey-soaked World War II vet ready to fly a decommissioned plane and risk it all to save a life.

Also by this author: A Serpent's Tooth, Any Other Name, The Highwayman, "Eleven/Twenty-Nine", An Obvious Fact, The Western Star, Depth of Winter

Technically, this is 9.1 in the publication line-up of the Walt Longmire mystery series set in Wyoming—and at the start of the story with the “prologue”, but the chronology of this novella is more like 0.25 as the main events take place a few months after Walt is elected sheriff in 1988, and Martha is still alive. And, while this is technically a mystery series, it’s more of a suspenseful ride with a quickly sobering Lucian and a leaky “boat”.

My Take
I liked the start of this one with its present day setting before Walt heads back into memory. It’s a moaning Walt, moaning in his head about how lonely this Christmas will be: no Cady as she’s expecting Walt’s first grandchild in January, Vic has gone to Belize with her mom, and Henry has a new ladyfriend. But it’s a loneliness broken by an old memory in the form of a visitor. One who takes Walt and Lucian back in time to a truly fearsome Christmas.

It’s that clue, Steamboat, when Walt realizes who their visitor is and the memory sends him back in time, remembering that fearsome Christmas Eve flight to save a little girl’s life.

It’s a trip back into history on many levels as Johnson provides back history on Lucian’s life without making it an info dump, the Haylift story with those personal touches and heavy loads LOL, lots of foreshadowing–he did make me cry with that line: “Good thing we’ve got a long road ahead of us, huh?” A bit more back history gives us the background on the bucking bronco on Wyoming’s license plate with its parallel application between the horse and today’s visitor. I also enjoyed the subtle hints of the Indian spirits who would be such a help to Walt in the years to come.

It’s an exciting ride, LOL, how could it not be when Lucian Connally is at the controls of an ancient bomber with hydraulic issues and leaks of all sorts while Doc Bloomfield struggles to save a young girl’s life western style as he’s flung about the plane.

Yup, fancy flying with a whole lotta goosing and an even trickier landing that reflects back on the bucking bronco of the Mitchell’s namesake.

The Story
It’s a mysterious visitor on Christmas Eve that sends Walt down memory lane to a much earlier Christmas when Martha was still alive, just before the bad news hits.

Only a young girl survived the car crash, barely. If she doesn’t get to a burn unit down in Denver, she’ll die. And there’s a massive cold front from Canada coming in.

The Characters
Walt Longmire has been sheriff of Absaroka County for a bit over a month now, the result of an election Lucian did his best to lose. Martha is his worried wife; Cady is their nine-year-old daughter.

Lucian Connally was the poker-playing, one-legged sheriff before Walt and a Doolittle Raider during World War II. He’s now living at the Durant Home for Assisted Living.

Dr. Isaac Bloomfield goes along for the ride. Julie Luehrman teaches part-time—at Cady’s school and to pilots—and she’s a mechanic and pilot who’ll take that terrifying co-pilot’s seat. Rick Koehmstedt is the airport manager. The Ferg is Walt’s deputy.

Mrs. Oda is the grandmother of Amaterasu, the young burn victim.

Current day…
Ruby is the dispatcher for the sheriff’s department. Mary Jo Johnson works at the Durant Home for Assisted Living. Henry owns the Red Pony Bar and is Walt’s best friend. Even if he is spending most of his time with a new lady. Dog is, well, a dog who goes everywhere with Walt.

The Cover
The cover is a woodcut-effect of a B-25 bomber named Steamboat with the mustang and rider silhouette from the Wyoming license plates painted on her side, as she struggles through the snowy turquoise sky on her errand of mercy. It’s only the Spirit of Steamboat that gets them through.

Reviewed by Kathy Davie

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