Craig Johnson's latest Walt Longmire mystery, "The Longmire Defense," has been published. Photo by Adam Jahiel, courtesy of Viking/Penguin
NEW YORK, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Author Craig Johnson says readers will get to know a lot more about Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire's family history in the writer's latest mystery novel, The Longmire Defense.
Now published, Johnson's 19th book in the Longmire series finds Walt investigating a decades-old murder case that involved his late grandfather, Lloyd.
"There's nothing I love more than giving myself little bookmarks in previous books and then turning around and going back over that territory again," Johnson told UPI in a recent phone interview.
"With Walt and his grandfather, the relationship that they had was kind of rocky all the way through the series of books," Johnson said. "I knew it was time to deal with that and, of course, you have to have a plot -- something that will forward that relationship or the story and still be plausible."
He remembered reading as a kid a fact-based story by Elmer Keith that took place right after World War I about a Montana state accountant who was killed in an elk hunting camp. It was unclear whether it was an accident or murder.
"That just stayed with me my whole life," Johnson said.
"When I got ready to write this particular book, I was like: 'OK, that's a good plot point to see what happened and see how that relationship between Walt and his grandfather will change.'"
Johnson described his iconic lawman as an "ecumenical, even-handed, fair investigator," and said it was interesting to see how his moral compass might be tested when presented with the fact a man was killed in 1948 with a rifle that belonged to a relative Walt always regarded as cantankerous and judgmental.
"It's a different kind of Walt," the author said, calling him and Lloyd "two bulls in a paddock" or simply too much alike to get along.
"He's kind of gunning for his grandfather, at that point," Johnson added. "Obviously, the thing you would assume is that he would defend his grandfather, but they didn't get along, so he suspects his grandfather may very well have killed this guy."
In talking to the few people who still live in the area and remember Lloyd and that fateful hunting trip, Walt realizes not everyone had the same experiences with the old man.
"Lucian and Lloyd were close compatriots," Johnson said, referring to the retired sheriff who constantly insists to help out on Walt's investigations whether the younger man wants him to or not.
"Lucian has some very clear ideas about, 'Hey, what you're doing here is hunting a ghost and you need to knock that off because that's not fair.'"
Walt isn't just thinking about the past these days, though.
He unexpectedly and unromantically proposes to Vic, angering his longtime girlfriend and undersheriff, and prompting her to disappear for most of the book.
"Whenever you're working on something like this [case], that doesn't mean your personal life or daily life comes to a screeching halt. You've still got to deal with all of those things," Johnson said.
"He's a very complex individual and that relationship with he and Vic has been on the back burner there for a long time," Johnson said of Walt. "My wife thinks that Walt picks the absolute worst moment in his life and the worst location to say something that he should have said months or years ago. But that's the way those things happen."
Walt's brush with death in the previous book, Hell and Back, is making him re-evaluate his priorities.
"He's gone through some pretty rough times, as of late. It's a finite proposition, this life, here," Johnson said.
"If you can make yourself happy and make other people happy in the process, then that is something you should pursue, maybe invest a little time and effort into it," he added. "He thinks, 'Maybe it's time to have some changes in my life.'"
Walt's motherly secretary, Ruby, and his adult daughter, Cady, of course, are on hand to offer their counsel.
"It's interesting to see how he kind of sounds out all the other women in his life about what is going on in his life," Johnson said.
"He's kind of like a wounded animal in the center of the herd, with this pride of lionesses all around him, taking care of him and making sure he is OK."