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Monday
May142012

As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson

Published by Viking on May 15, 2012

Sheriff Walt Longmire is on a reservation in Montana scouting a potential location for his daughter's wedding when a woman plummets to her death from a nearby cliff. Rather miraculously, a baby she is holding survives the fall. Unless the woman committed suicide (and nobody believes she would take her baby with her), the woman's no-good drunken husband is the obvious murder suspect, but Walt isn't so sure. Longmire is outside of his jurisdiction, so the crime will be investigated either by the tribal Chief of Police, Lolo Long, or the FBI. That doesn't stop Longmire from playing an active role. Another murder removes its victim from his list of suspects, deepening the mystery of the killer's identity.

Despite (or because of) her beauty, Lolo has a seriously large buffalo chip on her shoulder, a fact that contributes about half of the story's considerable comic relief. Longmire takes it upon himself to give Lolo some (mostly unwelcome) professional advice and on-the-job training. At the same time, everything that can go wrong does as Longmire tries to make arrangements for his daughter's wedding, providing another source of amusement. Laughs aside, Craig Johnson writes scenes of family dynamics that are sweet and touching without ever becoming melodramatic.

As the Crow Flies is a better-than-average mystery written in an easy, breezy style that mixes mild intrigue with gentle humor. Johnson doesn't rely on chase scenes or machismo-laden heroes to carry the story. Longmire doesn't provoke confrontations to prove his toughness, nor does he have the mindless "zero tolerance" attitude toward crime that too often characterizes fictional law enforcement officers. He is, in fact, more likely to tell someone to stop being stupid than he is to arrest them for foolish behavior. His self-deprecating remarks and laid-back attitude make him a likable character. The other series regular who plays a large role in As the Crow Flies, Henry Standing Bear, is equally likable. All the characters have unique personalities; even minor characters are believable.

The story's many plot threads all tie together nicely at the end. I wasn't able to identify the killer although a more astute reader might have better luck. Longmire's experiences as he pursues the investigation are as engaging as the mystery itself. The novel's most interesting section involves a Cheyenne religious ceremony in which Longmire is invited to participate. It is rare in a suspense novel for an upright hero to ingest peyote. Johnson's description of Longmire's hallucinatory experience is both respectful and fascinating. Longmire's vision, of course, helps him solve the crime, and if that's a bit farfetched, it is no less entertaining.

In short, As the Crow Flies provides a thoroughly pleasurable reading experience. It isn't necessary to read the earlier books in the Longmire series to appreciate this one, but reading this one might prompt readers to search out the previous installments.

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