Click here to read reviewer Steven Rosen's take on Junkyard Dogs.
Johnson’s work is an unexpected find, this novel set in Absaroka County, Wyoming, where Sheriff Walt Longmire attempts to keep the peace with the assistance of his undersheriff (and current love interest) Victoria Moretti, Basque deputy Saizarbitoria (Sancho), and best friend Cheyenne Henry Walking Bear. Currently engaged in tamping down an incipient range war between neighbors - ranch estate developer Ozzie Dobbs Jr. and the owner of the county junkyard adjoining his property, Geo Stewart - Walt intervenes in hopes of getting charges dismissed. Events accelerate, leaving one man tragically dead and the other in jail, the rowdy Stewart clan arousing his suspicion. After yet another death, Longmire trips over criminal activity that yields high rewards, surpassing the sheriff’s expectations of the eccentric but usually predictable folks he serves and protects.
Johnson delivers a cast of characters straight out of a black comedy with a host of idiosyncrasies that render them particularly memorable. A pair of junkyard dogs track Longmire with hungry, glittering eyes as formerly passive citizens thrust the sheriff into a scenario that leads from one dangerous situation to another. Longmire can’t seem to stay out of harm’s way in this rollicking tale - shot at, torn up, dog-bit and pretty much on the wrong end of every potentially violent situation. One after another, characters and plot shift, revealing the grandiose dreams of inept, greedy men and the careless brutality of a stone killer, Walt trading witty barbs with a smooth-swearing Vic, worrying over a deputy with PTSD and ignoring the skeptical glances of Henry Standing Bear.
Place is a major character in this thriller, the snow-covered landscape creating a sense of isolation, nature indifferent to the mortals who build their monuments to materialism, collect acres of rusted metal, stacks of rejected vehicles pounded into scrap metal towers in a bizarre labyrinth where two yellow-eyed junkyard dogs roam in search of prey. It’s a harsh environment that gives no quarter. Longmire is perfectly at home in his jail bedding down for the night with his prisoners and the temporarily homeless Henry Standing Bear, musing on past regrets, toying with a future with his foul-talking undersheriff, and thus far oblivious to an extensive criminal enterprise that crosses class boundaries in the name of profit.
Johnson is a delight to read, his wry protagonist long on compassion and short on impulse control when it comes to putting himself in danger (“I am the clamorous harbinger of blood and death”), an iconic character who embodies the patient, careful temperament of a man who understands we are only here on nature’s sufferance.