Reviews for The Dark Horse

Book review: 'The Dark Horse' by Craig Johnson
12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, June 28, 2009
By DALE L. WALKER / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Craig Johnson spent his youth in West Virginia, served for a time as a New York City beat cop and later earned a doctorate at Temple University in Philadelphia. About a decade ago, he drove away from his Harlem apartment and ended up in Ucross, Wyo., a dot on the road atlas in the Big Horn Mountain country close to the Montana border.
After building a log home in Ucross, he wrote The Cold Dish (2006) and introduced Walt Longmire, the fictional sheriff of fictional Absaroka County. The book's descriptive passages, striking characters and edgy dialogue were as convincing as any Wyoming native could have rendered.
The Dark Horse, fifth in the Longmire series (after The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished and Another Man's Moccasins), continues everything that was good in the first book, as well as some new good things, including added dimension to the sheriff. The case at hand is ugly: Longmire, undercover as an insurance agent in a neighboring county, investigates the murder of Wade Barstad, shot four times in his face, seemingly by his wife, Mary, after Barstad allegedly locked Mary's horses in a barn, then set fire to it.
The case hinges on a champion cutting horse that escaped the barn fire, a big mare named Black Diamond Wahoo Sue, as well as Sheriff Longmire's ability to tell the difference between the songs of two meadowlarks. He also learns that lots of people wanted Wade Barstad dead.
Good characters abound: Longmire's friend Henry Standing Bear, whom Longmire calls The Cheyenne Nation; a dog with some German shepherd in him named Dog; a dispatcher named Ruby; the sheriff's daughter Cady; and a barfly named Cliff Cly.
Walt Longmire, a widowed ex-Marine with Vietnam service, an intellectual bent and a rare sense of humor, is a substantial creation. In The Dark Horse, a clue to his character arises when, up for re-election, he needs a campaign slogan. His opponent has chosen "A Man to Make a Difference," which Longmire considers laughable. For himself, the sheriff suggests "Carthage Must Be Destroyed," a quote from Cato the Elder during the Third Punic War. However, the Absaroka County Council, to which Longmire answers, does not have his sense of history or humor.
With five good novels behind him and more ahead, Craig Johnson is among the young luminaries of mystery fiction.

When Stars Align
Posted Monday, June 15, 2009 4:25 PM | By Juliet Lapidos
Excerpt from Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly

First among victors is Craig Johnson’s The Dark Horse—the only new title we came across to receive stars from all four trades. When Wade Barsad locked his wife’s horses in a barn and burned them alive, she retaliated by shooting him in the head six times. Or did she? Sheriff Walt Longmire investigates. Booklist warns that Longmire’s friend Henry Standing Bear “feels like a tag-along” but assures readers that “Longmire’s shoulders are more than broad enough to carry a book.”

Johnson's mysteries set in the wild West worth a read
Linda Fields Gold, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/20/2009

I think the Autry National Center is a terrific, world-class institution, a wonderful way to spend a day. It's right up there with Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and Washington, D.C.'s American History Smithsonian - the one with the bridal gowns of all the First Ladies, the recreation of Manzanar, and Magnum, P.I.'s Detroit Tigers baseball cap.
So when I got a press release a few months ago saying that the Autry was launching a book club that would spotlight the West, I was both excited and curious. But what really intrigued me was that I hadn't heard of the author: Craig Johnson.
Fast forward about three months: I have now read all five of his mysteries, set in northeast Wyoming, and have seen and heard the author at a panel in Westwood. I have just finished "The Dark Horse;" the most recently published novel, to be discussed with the author, from 2-4 p.m. July 19, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, in Griffith Park.
The book begins when a woman in custody, accused of murdering her husband, is transferred to Sheriff Walt Longmire's jail in a neighboring county. Why did she allegedly kill her spouse? Well, since he thought she loved her horses more than she did him, he locked them all in the barn and set it on fire.
And that is the start of an awfully good story. And why does the sheriff think she is innocent? And what is the FBI interest in a seemingly-local crime? Humor and nuggets of knowledge are sprinkled like oats on the barn floor - just wait until you find out the derivation of the word "arena."
I recommend that you read "The Cold Dish" first to establish the characters and their backgrounds. And then "Death Without Company," "Kindness Goes Unpunished," and "Another Man's Moccasins." It's not absolutely necessary, but each volume layers new depths and dimensions to the main and supporting characters.
Like his sheriff, Johnson lives in Wyoming, but he has a wife and two dogs, Ivan and Lucy. He grew up in West Virginia, has a doctorate from Temple University and was a patrol officer in Manhattan.

Marilyn Stasio, New York Times, June 7, 2009

It's the scenery — and the big guy standing in front of the scenery — that keeps us coming back to Craig Johnson's lean and leathery mysteries. All the books in this series are set in Wyoming and feature Walt Longmire, the sheriff of Absaroka County , who's a good man to have on your side if you're a world-class rider jailed for shooting your husband after he burned down the stable with your horses inside. That's what happens in THE DARK HORSE to Mary Barsad, who refuses to talk about the bloodbath, leaving the sheriff to investigate in his own maverick style.

Working undercover, Walt meets some crusty characters in a bar where beer is served only in cans (“Nobody ever got hurt throwing a can, and nobody in this part of the world ever threw a full one”) and a Powder River Pound-Down Tough-Man Contest is held every Friday night. Walt takes a few punches when he's roped into one of these fights, but that gets him a wild ride on a magnificent horse. And in the end, in one of those surprising grace notes that keep this series from falling into cowboy guff, it's the song of a meadowlark that gives the killer away.

Fiction review: 'The Dark Horse'
by Peggy McMullen, The Oregonian

Mary Barsad has confessed to shooting her husband, and the gunpowder residue on her hands backs that up. So why has Sheriff Walt Longmire gone undercover in the unfriendly town of Absalom by the Barsad's L Bar X ranch to prove that wrong?

Because Walt just can't shake the feeling that the woman housed -- but not at home, if you know what I mean -- in his Absaroka Country jail awaiting trial is not responsible for the charred body found with six bullets to the head.the fifth in Craig Johnson's series about the lawman from Wyoming , Mary has a lot of motive for wanting her unlikable-to-all-who-knew-him husband, Wade, dead. The intermittent wife-beater took her beloved, prizewinning quarter horse on a one-way trip; a week later, he locked the barn on the rest of her herd and lit it on fire. The fire spread to the house, burning up the already dead man where he lay in the master bedroom.

"The Dark Horse" delivers another solid, winning mystery in Johnson's addictive series, set amid haunting landscapes and with characters who come off the page -- so much so that Johnson has gotten more than one love letter sent to him with a request to forward it to Walt.

The books in the Longmire series have won a number of awards for Johnson and "Dark Horse" is already a 2009 "Indie Next list" selection. Which makes for more than one "Dark Horse" in Johnson's latest venture: Publishers Viking and Penguin combined have shipped out more than 120,000 copies, backing up their belief that this could be the breakout book that launches him into best-seller status. His publishers have backed Johnson from the get-go, and fans and reviews have avidly touted the merits of the Longmire series from the first, "The Cold Dish." As one of those who has been an addicted fan from the first, my money's on Johnson.

Book Review by Susan Larson
of The Times Picayune

Wade Barsad just needed killing -- and he gets it in Craig Johnson's "The Dark Horse." Barsad, a newcomer to Wyoming ranching, made plenty of enemies being arrogant, violent and ruthless. His beautiful wife, Mary, was found dazed near the body, with a rifle in her hands and a confession on her lips. Seems Wade burned down the barn with her prize-winning horses inside.

The champion rider winds up in Sheriff Walt Longmire's jail, even though the crime happened in an adjacent county. And something in her confession doesn't seem right to the laconic lawman-hero. Mary isn't talking (or eating), so Longmire goes undercover as an insurance investigator in tiny Absalom, where bar fights and farm auctions seem to be the local entertainment.

A very old cowboy and his very young sidekick join Longmire and his famously eponymous Dog on a trek through battered streets and the mountainous Wyoming wilderness in search of the truth in the fifth entry in the winning Longmire series.

Book Review: Johnson crafts another must-read mystery

Of The Gazette Staff

Spur Award winner Craig Johnson has another winner on his hands.

The Ucross, Wyo. , writer rides his fifth Sheriff Walt Longmire mystery, "The Dark Horse," on an action-packed journey sprinkled with humor and humanity.

The story works at once as mystery and as an exploration of Longmire's relationships and sense of justice.

Longmire should be putting his energy into seeking re-election as lead lawman in Northern Wyoming 's fictional Absaroka County . Instead, he goes undercover to help the sheriff of nearby Campbell County , Wyo. , check out the confession of Mary Barsad, a star rodeo horsewoman, to the murder of her husband, Wade.

Mary takes up residence in Longmire's jail, and he sets out for the down-and-out motel in Absalom, near the burned-out ranch where Wade's bullet-riddled body was found.

Johnson alternates between past and present as Longmire tries to reconstruct the case, which would have plenty of suspects had Mary not repeatedly told folks that she shot Wade in bed after he burned down their barn with her beloved horses inside.

Though Wade only lived in Wyoming a short time, he piled up more than his share of enemies with his little care for animals, his disregard of people's emotions and his sucking up of the possessions of others.

His mysterious past may provide clues to absolve Mary of guilt. Or is she simply playing the fragile woman caught up in a crime that's a haze to her?

Longmire finds a confusing trail in tiny Absalom, where Johnson's skill at creating memorable characters again comes to the fore.

The sheriff's undercover role has him almost immediately on the wrong side of barfly and rowdy Cliff Cly and under suspicion by most longtime residents. Being a stranger, Longmire definitely stands out, even as he repeatedly offers assurance that he's not lost.

His relationship with bartender/illegal immigrant Juana contrasts with his professional/personal one with his deputy, Vic. But the standout is how Longmire interacts with Juana's son, Benjamin.

Longmire's strong paternal pull toward his daughter, Cady, blossoms in his lightly sparring banter with Benjamin.

Those familiar with earlier books in the series can't help but let out a whoop when it becomes clear that Longmire has uninvited back-up of sorts in the form of his decades-long pal Henry Standing Bear.

The tale puts Longmire on a path to his past as readers learn more about his childhood on the old family ranch now leased by Tom Groneberg and his wife, both real-life Montana authors.

Johnson easily captures the landscape and the people of his adopted state. His descriptions are rich in sound and color: Juana's "voice carrying with the soft buzz of the yellow bug fluorescents outside," an assailant's truck's "smoldering running lights like tracers in the darkness," sagebrush ensnaring a battered beaver hat that "struggled against the dry branches, unable to escape their grip."

The novel displays Johnson's usual sensitivity to American Indian culture and spiritualism. And he uses the current tensions over coalbed-methane development and newcomers buying up Wyoming land as elements of the story, too.

The climax continues Johnson's signature of action far different from other mysteries. It's vivid, unexpected and filled with the richness of Longmire's reflections.

Starred Booklist
Issue: May 15, 2009
The Dark Horse.
Johnson, Craig (Author)

Recent novels in this top-notch series have taken Sheriff Walt Longmire out of his Absaroka County, Wyoming, comfort zone to big-city Philadelphia and to his past in war-torn Vietnam. The Dark Horse treads turf similar to the first and strongest two books in the series but with a twist: Longmire’s in the next county over, and he’s working undercover. It starts with a transferred prisoner who’s been accused
of—and confessed to—killing her husband. But Longmire doesn’t believe her and, on little more than a hunch, sets out to prove her wrong. Posing as an insurance claims adjuster (the dead man burned a barn with the horses inside), he checks into a motel that might be the high-plains equivalent of the one in Touch of Evil. Longmire, locally famous, has a hell of a time keeping his cover. From the interesting story frame (past and present slowly converge) to the indelibly inked characters, to the set-piece ending (in snow and lightning on top of a mesa), this is among Johnson’s best, with one caveat: Longmire’s longtime friend, Henry Standing Bear, a character too big for sidekick status, here feels like a tag-along. Fortunately, Longmire’s shoulders are more than broad enough to carry a book.
— Keir Graff

Starred Library Journal

In his fifth outing (after Another Man's Moccasins ), Sheriff Walt Longmire goes undercover to prove that Mary Barsad, confessed murderer, did not kill her husband after he shot her horses and set the barn on fire. Walt finds that there is a lot more going on in Wyoming 's remote Powder River area, as he meets a cast of characters with much to hide. VERDICT While not as hardboiled as C.J. Box's crime thrillers nor as humorous as J.M. Hayes's "Mad Dog and Englishman" series, Johnson's deft, twisty storytelling immediately grips the reader. His latest has a heart as big as a Wyoming sky.

PW Starred Review

In Johnson's superb fifth contemporary mystery to feature Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire (after 2008's Another Man's Moccasins), Walt has his doubts about Mary Barsad's guilt when she confesses to shooting her husband, Wade, after Wade allegedly burned down their barn with all Mary's horses inside. Even though the crime is out of his jurisdiction in a neighboring county, Walt can't shake the feeling that there's more to Mary's story. Posing as an insurance agent, Walt starts poking around the tiny town of Absalom, whose main attraction are the fights at the local bar. He meets an illegal immigrant bartender with a knack for crime solving, the Barsads' loyal cowhand and some ranchers who may have had their own reasons for wanting Wade dead. Walt digs deep into the dilapidated town's history, unearthing secrets that might be better left buried. Series fans will delight in seeing Walt return to his cowboy roots as he mounts a horse and navigates the sparsely populated state. 8-city author tour. (June)

Poisoned News Review

Ever since my eye lit on the first paragraph of Walt Longmire's first case The Cold Dish, I've been a goner. Is it the uproarious and frequently outrageous but always apt humor, that weapon the hardboiled crime writer has always wielded alongside dark and ugly deeds to keep readers glued to the page? Is it the character of Walt himself, that often conflicted, frequently rueful, shrewd sheriff of Wyoming's Absaroka County, a man I call a true hero for he's afraid—but he acts anyway. Walt's a loving man, a good employer (the sheriff's office is peppered with characters you can't resist), a devoted father even if his daughter lives a dangerous life in Philadelphia – and then there's Walt's friend, Henry Standing Bear, aka "The Cheyenne Nation," as stalwart a backup as you'd like, and the new recruit, Dog (literally, a big beast). And in this novel, a remarkable and missing horse called Wahoo Sue whose spirit breathes life into the nearly defeated Mary Barsad who is charged with murdering her husband. Walt has gone undercover, posing as an insurance man, in Campbell County to see what the dickens is about to blow Powder River country sky high if Mary and the lid on the crime aren't kept locked down in Walt's jail….

Starred Kirkus Review

The Sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyo., follows a hunch to free an allegedly self-made widow. Though his jail is housing confessed killer, Mary Barsad, Walt Longimire has a feeling the horse-loving lady is innocent. Prescription drugs found in her system have left her with little appetite and even less ability to focus on the here and now. Posing as an insurance adjuster, Walt goes to the Powder River country to sniff around. His welcome is less than warm. On the night of the murder, Wade Barsad's ranch house and barn were destroyed by fire, along with his wife's prize cutting horses- all except for Wahoo Sue, Mary's favorite, whom Barsad claimed to have taken out and shot. The long list of people happy to see Wad dead includes his hired hand Hershel Vanskike, whose hopes of fortune rest in an antique rifle, and just about everybody else in a three-county area. When Walt rents a room in Absalom, only a Guatemalan bartender and her half-Cheyenne son Benjamin are willing to talk to him. Though he tries to keep a low profile, Walt gets pushed into fighting Cliff Cly, king of the local Friday night fights. It turns our that Barsad was in the witness protection program and had a lost more enemies than the locals he'd antagonized. After a trip with Hershel and Benjamin to Twentymile Butte shows Cly in a new light, only a meeting with Wahoo Sue saves Walt from death.
Walt's fifth (another Man's Moccasins, 2008, etc.) is stunningly descriptive and compulsively readable.