Depth of Winter | Book Review


Depth of Winteris Craig Johnson’s fourteenth novel featuring lawman Walt Longmire, and to be honest, it is a disappointment. I say this with regret because I am a fan of the Longmire series, having read all thirteen previous novels as well as the two novellas and collection of short stories. My basic rule for fiction is whether it keeps me turning pages. On that account, the novel failed. I had to force myself to keep reading.

This surprised me. The setup of the novel is good. At the end of The Western Star, Longmire’s archnemesis Tomas Bidarte had kidnapped Cady, fled to Mexico, and dared Longmire to come and get her (and him). This sets up Depth of Winteras a suspense novel focused on rescue and revenge.

So why didn’t this setup work for me? Several reasons:

First, the novel is set in the badlands of Mexico, doesn’t include the usual cast of characters (e.g., Henry, Vic), and introduces other characters that won’t appear in any future Longmire capers. Plus, some of those characters—the legless, blind hunchback; the doctor/intelligence officer/anti-cartel vigilante; the mute Indian sniper—are caricatures, too overdrawn even for Longmire’s admittedly eccentric social network.

Second, what makes fiction work is the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief. The overdrawn characters made me pay more attention to how unrealistic the setup is. Longmire is going to the heart of Mexican cartel country in order to rescue his daughter and kill his enemy. Alone? At his age?

Longmire graduated from USC and served in Vietnam. He was in country during the Tet Offensive, which took place in 1968. At minimum, that means he’s 22 in 1968, which means he was born in 1946. (One estimate I saw online estimates his birthyear as 1943.) If the events of Depth of Winterare contemporary, that means Longmire is in his early to mid-70s. And he takes the hardships and beatings in this story as well as he does? I don’t thinks so.

Third, Johnson’s previous novels in this series have been mysteries. There’s a crime, and Longmire solves it. Suspense novels work somewhat differently. There’s a complex problem that needs to be solved, but the question is whether the protagonist will solve it in time. Obviously, readers know that Longmire will at minimum get his daughter back and live, so the question is how tight his escapes will be, how just-in-time he’ll solve the problem. Unfortunately, given the problems I mentioned in my first two points, the tightness and just-in-timeness factors weren’t believable.

As I said at the outset, I’ve been a fan of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, so I regret to file such a poor review of it. I’ll give Johnson one more novel in this series to recapture my interest, but at this point, absent a great follow-up novel to this one, I think it’s time for the sheriff to retire.

Book Review
Craig Johnson, Depth of Winter(New York: Viking, 2018).

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