Dark Horse by Craig Johnson: A review

Well, that was fun. This fifth entry in Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series was a quick and entertaining weekend read. It contained all of the elements that have made this such a likable series for me and few of the ones that I have found annoying in the past.

Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming is called on to go undercover in The Dark Horse. The problem is that his undercover work is to be done in an adjoining county, in fact the county where he grew up and where the old Longmire family home is. He's not unknown in these parts, so being an anonymous undercover cop is a challenge to say the least.

The challenge comes about because Absaroka County has been sent a prisoner to house. They don't have enough criminals to keep their cells filled so when other counties have an overflow and need additional cells, they send them to Absaroka. But the sheriff of the adjoining county, an old friend of Walt's, might just have an ulterior motive in sending him this particular prisoner.

She's a young woman accused of having shot her husband in the head six times and then burning the house down around the body after he had burned her horses alive. She has confessed to the crime, but the sheriff has some concerns about that confession and wants someone he trusts to take a look at the case. Enter Walt Whitmire.

Walt goes to the little town where the crime occurred in the guise of an insurance investigator. It's a town with a population of forty souls. It is called Absalom, which gives Craig/Walt a chance to muse on how the town got such a name and to show off his knowledge of the Bible and of Faulkner.

There are some interesting characters in this mini-town. First among them is a barmaid named Juana. She is an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who came to Absalom by way of Chicago where she had married a Cheyenne construction worker. They had a son named Benjamin. After her husband was killed in an accident, she brought her half-Cheyenne son to Wyoming near the Cheyenne reservation and has been attempting to make a life for them there. She went to the local community college and took a course in criminal justice but was unable to finish because she ran out of money. But she is an enthusiastic practitioner of the investigatory skills that she learned and it doesn't take her long to rumble Longmire's cover.

Then there is an old cowpuncher named Herschel who worked for the couple at the center of the tale, the alleged victim and the alleged murderess. He despised the victim and idolized the murderess. Juana, who also worked for the couple, had the same opinion, as did, it seems, just about everyone in the town. I'm sensing a theme here.

As Walt is able to talk to his prisoner by bribing her with his dog (named Dog), he learns more about her, including the fact that she is a sleepwalker who takes Ambien(!). She was a barrel racer and owned a championship racer, a black mare named Wahoo Sue, who her husband hated and took out of the barn one day and told his wife later that he had killed her. The wife, knowing how he enjoyed torturing things, doesn't believe him and thinks the horse is still alive somewhere but in great pain. How did her S.O.B. of a husband live as long as he did?

Well, all of this makes for an intriguing plot and we get to follow Walt as he proceeds with his investigation and talks to the locals. Craig Johnson's ear for the vernacular is astute and it is a pleasure to read these conversations and to enjoy the dry wit with which they are imbued. 

Humor and Johnson's use of language in conveying a sense of the fantastic setting that is Wyoming are two of the strong points of this series. Both are on full display here.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   



  1. This sounds like a great entry in the series. I'm glad that you enjoyed it so much.

    1. It was a fun read. Not demanding - perfect for summer.

  2. Ah ha, the Ambien connection! I remember my husband especially liked this one. And Absalom, Absalom is one of my favorite Faulkner novels.

    1. Yes, I had to smile a bit at the serendipity of the Ambien connection. Actually, I smiled quite a bit throughout the book.

  3. I adored the Longmire series on Netflix and was devastated when it concluded. I had thought I might start watching it again, but maybe I'll give the books a try instead. Thank you for bringing my attention to them, Dorothy. P. x

    1. This is the fifth of the books that I've read and all except one have been winners. I actually like the book characters better than the TV characters. Some of them are quite different than portrayed on television, but Walt and Henry are much the same.


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