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Book review: <i>Christmas In Absaroka County</i> by Craig Johnson

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the cover of the book

Christmas In Absaroka County is just the thing to get you into the spirit of the season. A tiny taster of the Absaroka County; my only complaint would be that there just wasn't enough of it!

The story

Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming, isn't so much in the Christmas spirit. Maybe he never has been, because he's not that kind of guy. Maybe it's the fact that he's dealing with the loss of his wife, and that's quite a thing to be dealing with. More often than not accompanied by his faithful companion, Dog, he deals with the little bits of the holiday season which, more often than not, see some people slip through the cracks. The holidays aren't jolly for just everyone.

Walt deals with a woman seeking Jesus on New Year's Day, a bedraggled bible salesman, a young soldier wishing for parental approval, and a girl who's family lost her, with a combination of sensitivity and no nonsense honesty. Maybe these things weren't always in his nature, but the thought of his wife, and how they'd got on by in life, keeps him emotionally in touch enough to deal with the people Christmas forgot. There's also his daughter Cady, keeping him on his toes and not letting him forget what his family responsibilities are.

Even when you're a Sheriff it pays to know where you keep your heart, and when to use it.

The style

Apparently, short stories are an art-form. The experts say they are much harder to write than novels, and a talent for short stories is pretty much innate. You either have it, or you don't. If this is the case, Craig Johnson has it. Each story is short. There's no dragging, no unnecessary bulk. Each story is a snapshot of some tiny occurrence with Walt that has some special meaning. While the stories are obviously linked; they are all set around the same place, with Walt as the main character; they are not in chronological order, and stand alone just as nicely as together.

Craig Johnson has a smart, sparse style that manages to evoke strong imagery using few words. Each of the stories is less than twenty pages long, and each seems to be emotionally more powerful than the last. I was drawn to Walt's gruff humanity, appreciated his outlook, and sympathised with him on his tiny journeys through each story. Another point I appreciated particularly was the way the reader is also invited to sympathise with each of the antagonists in each story, although often they are doing wrong, their humanity is emphasised by Walt's understanding but firm take on them.

As I said above, the only thing that disappointed me was that there weren't more! It reads so easy that I read the entire book in about an hour and a half. Then wanting more, I spent a little bit of time reading the bonus included first chapter of The Cold Dish, which is apparently the first novel in the Walt Longmire Mystery Series. Which I reckon I will be having myself a read of some time soon!

Who is this book for?

Craig Johnson has eight books in the Walt Longmire series, so if you're a fan, then get onto this collection. Also, perhaps you liked the TV series that came out earlier this year? If so, but you're not a big reader, I strongly recommend this as a reading starting point for you. Christmas is coming, people!

If you like this book, you would also like...

There are obviously two ways to approach this; if you like short stories of the mystery or detective genres, obviously you have your Raymond Chandler and friends. Obviously they aren't quite like this collection, but they are well written and short. If on the other hand you like this style, regardless of whether it's a short story, perhaps the first logical step would be Craig Johnson's other work. I also heartily recommend Walter Mosley, who's a fantastic author of detective fiction and who's protagonists tend towards the no-nonsense persons of conscience.

In short

Title: Christmas In Absaroka County
Author: Craig Johnson
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-1-101-62371-8
Year published: 2012
Pages: 59
Genre(s): Short story, Fiction
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