Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson

The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson is a good book, but it was hard for me to read.  My love of animals got in the way.

The crime at the heart of the story begins with the burning of a barn full of valuable horses.   Then it leads to the murder of Wade Barsad, supposedly by his wife Mary.

Mary is consigned to the Absaroka County, Wyoming, jail, again supposedly because a neighboring sheriff needs to relieve overcrowding in his own jail.  But the truth is, that sheriff knows Absaroka County's Sheriff Walt Longmire will take up Mary's cause.

So Longmire goes under cover in the small (and ominous) town of Absalom, and the story goes from there. 

This story is unusual.  It is told back and forth in time without using flashbacks in the current time itself.

I found that technique interesting and effective.  I don't remember other books written like that.

I might have found some things in the novel too coincidental, and I might have had some plot questions, but still, I liked the book.

This book has three things which are typical of Craig Johnson:

(1) Heart-stopping action. All of Johnson's Longmire books so far have sections with the kinds of scenes you'd expect to find in a modern action-oriented movie.  In the real world, Longmire would be long-dead.

(2) Careful planning.  Johnson sets everything up.  The bridge construction Longmire sees early in the book appears later in an important way.  And so it is with all the details in the book.

(3) Characters you can fall in love with.  Mary Barsad, the victim's wife was one of those.  She was believable, strong and sad.  So was the Barsad's old ranch hand.  (For me, characterization is Johnson's strongest suit.)

Henry Standing Bear, the Cherokee Nation, doesn't play as big a part in this story, but he is there.

And finally, Walt gets back around to Victoria Moretti, something I've been rooting for.

Also, there is the dark horse, an abused and powerful animal whose strength is at the heart of this novel.

So, all in all, if you enjoy Craig Johnson (as I do), you should love this book. 

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