Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review: 'Spirit of Steamboat' by Craig Johnson

"Spirit of Steamboat," a novella in the Walt Longmire series, is an uneventful visit with old friends

October 17, 2013

It's always nice to spend time with old friends, even if their visits are uneventful. It doesn't have to be a lifetime moment; there is pleasure regardless.

That's how one feels after reading "Spirit of Steamboat" ($20, 146 pages, Viking Press/Penguin Group), a novella released today by Wyoming writer Craig Johnson.

The cover says it is "A Walt Longmire Story," and it is that -- sort of. The book contains some of the familiar Longmire characters, but it does not push that series forward. Rather, you might consider it a side dish to the main course.

In his introduction, Johnson writes that "Steamboat" grew out of an assignment for a short story. The best guess is that he set out to write a digital shorty, like "Messenger: A Walt Longmire Story" and "Christmas in Absoraka County: Walt Longmire Christmas Stories." Those are available only as downloads at It grew to novella length.

"Steamboat" is essentially one long flashback as Walt recalls an extraordinary effort to save the life of a child burn victim.

It centers on Walt's predecessor as sheriff in Absaroka County, Lucian Connally. It turns out Lucian was part of Doolittle's Raiders during World War II. Those brave aviators flew B-52B Mitchell bombers off an aircraft carrier to attack Japan.

Lucian and Walt eventually find themselves piloting a broken-down B-52B that is named after Wyoming's famed bucking horse, racing time and a winter storm to save the child.

The problem is, the story never really develops the suspense that Johnson intends. There are several harrowing moments, but the reader knows how they turn out: After all, Walt is alive and remembering the story.

It is not as if Longmire is going to die, or fall out of the bomber or run out of fuel. That takes away some of the compelling nature of Johnson's usual powerful storytelling.

Also, "Steamboat" lacks some of the polish one expects from the author: He sets the standard for Wyoming mystery writers. Perhaps because "Steamboat" is more thriller than mystery, it lacks some of his familiar style and technique.

As for those readers who expect to find further development of Walt's relationship with his undersheriff, Victoria Moretti, she is absent here. So are most of the other main characters, like Henry Standing Bear.

Still, it is nice to check in with Walt more than once a year, and this novella permits that.

Fans of the series will appreciate these few moments with favorite sheriff (and author), even if they are under-whelmed by the story.

Sometimes just seeing old friends is enough. That certainly is the case with "Spirit of Steamboat."


Author Craig Johnson currently has no Wyoming book signings planned in the wake of the release of his new book, "Spirit of Steamboat." Nearby signings include:

Oct. 18 -- The Tattered Cover, 1628 16th Street Mall, Lodo, Denver, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 -- Barnes and Noble, 2999 Pearl St., Boulder, Colo., 3 p.m.

Oct. 19 -- Fort Collins Library, Council Tree Branch, 2733 Council Tree Ave, Suite 200, Fort Collins, Colo., 7 p.m.

Nov. 1 -- Barnes and Noble, 8136 W. Bowles Ave., Littleton, Colo., 7 p.m.

Nov. 2 -- Farr Library, 1939 61st Ave., Greeley, Colo.,

6:30 p.m.

For more about the author and his books, visit

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