To better help readers find new authors and books they might enjoy, we decided to kick off a new series of write-ups here on The Real Book Spy, breaking down why different groups of fans love certain writers, their universes, and the characters who inhabit them.
First up, we’re going to take a look at Sherif Walt Longmire, star of Craig Johnson’s New York Times bestselling series. You might recognize the name, and that would make sense since the television adaption of Johnson’s books, titled Longmire, ran for six seasons with great success. Starring Robert Taylor in the titular role, Longmire became a popular option to stream on Netflix, and the show no doubt brought more readers to Johnson’s work, which first began with The Cold Dish in 2005.
The Cold Dish introduced readers to Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absoroka County in Wyoming, along with his close friends and colleagues, Henry Standing Bear and Victoria “Vic” Moretti. Since then, Johnson has gone on to publish eighteen total novels, all part of that series, with the nineteenth—The Longmire Defense—set to come out on September 5th, 2023. In addition to the full-length novels, Johnson has also penned numerous short stories and novellas, which started as a yearly tradition. Every Christmas Eve, the author would send out a new short story, delighting his fans. Eventually, they were all compiled into one collection titled Wait for Signs.
To help determine if the Longmire books might be a good fit for you, let’s take a look at some of the key selling points of the series.
First Book: The Cold Dish (2005).
Latest Book: The Longmore Defense, available September 5th.
Who these books might be a good fit for: Fans of Ace Atkins, Nevada Barr, and Robert B. Parker should definitely give this series a go.
Compelling Characters: One of the key factors that makes Craig Johnson’s books appealing to readers is his ability to create rich, multi-dimensional characters. Sheriff Walt Longmire is a complex protagonist with a strong moral compass and a sense of duty, but his flaws and struggles make him relatable and easy to identify with. Whether it’s struggling with loss or the vices one often turns to in order to cope with said losses, Johnson never holds back, unafraid to give his hero vulnerabilities that readers can relate to.
Authentic Setting: Johnson’s books are set in the vast and rugged landscapes of Wyoming, particularly the fictional Absaroka County, all of which is developed using vivid descriptions of the Western environment while still capturing the small-town atmosphere. Every book has a strong sense of place (even when Walt is taken out of Absoroka), and few writers are able to set a scene as quickly as Johnson, who’s always careful to ensure that his readers can see the events before and around them as they unfold. The authentic backdrop, which adds depth to the stories and creates a unique atmosphere for his franchise, is likely one of the main reasons his readers become captivated and keep coming back for more. Reading each new book is, at least in a way, almost like taking a yearly vacation to Wyoming. It’s a nice escape, at least until the danger starts.
Engaging Mysteries: The Longmire series primarily falls within the mystery and crime fiction genre. Johnson weaves intricate and well-crafted mystery plots that keep readers engaged from beginning to end. Some books fall more in line with general crime fiction, though the outdoorsy element does make them unique. However, other books certainly have more of a traditional whodunit structure as they delve into broader themes, human nature, and social issues, adding layers of depth to the stories.
Humor and Wit: Johnson often infuses his writing with a dry and subtle humor that adds a touch of lightness to the darker themes of crime and investigation. This humor often comes through witty dialogue (especially between Walt and Vic or Walt and Henry) and the interactions between characters, providing moments of levity that balance the seriousness of the investigations.
Emotional Resonance: In keeping with the comments above about interactions between characters, the emotional depth in Johnson’s writing is likely another reason readers connect with his work. The relationships between characters, especially the bond between Walt Longmire and his close friends and colleagues, are authentic and heartfelt–and because they’re ever-changing and developing across eighteen books, readers become invested in the characters’ personal journeys and growth. That’s one reason it’s so rewarding to read the whole series, and it’ll be fun to see how long Johnson can keep it going.
Cultural Exploration: Johnson’s books also offer insight into the culture and heritage of the American West, particularly the challenges faced by Native American communities. He explores these themes sensitively and with a sense of respect, providing readers with an opportunity to learn and reflect on these aspects of society.
In summary, readers are often drawn to Craig Johnson’s work due to the combination of well-developed characters, engaging mysteries, authentic settings, and the overarching sense of familiarity and continuity that the series offers. I speak from experience when I say that his books are addicting, and trust me—once you try one, you’ll be in a hurry to get your hands on the rest.
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and is building a growing community on Twitch. His debut thriller, FIELDS OF FIRE, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Jack Carr says “will leave you speechless and begging for more,” is now available. His second novel, LETHAL RANGE, was just released. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. And to take part in free, exclusive BOOK CLUBS each month, join The Real Book Spy on Discord.