Review: Craig Johnson’s “Depth of Winter”

Review of “Depth of Winter” — Ry Brooks

Craig Johnson’s previous novel, “The Western Star”, ends with a cliffhanger. A foe from Walt Longmire’s early days as a deputy with the Absaroka Sheriff’s Department abets a more contemporary nemesis, Tomas Bidarte, in the abduction of Walt’s daughter Cady as a means of luring him to an ultimate confrontation, but more on that later.

“Depth of Winter” takes the Sheriff out of his county, out of his native country, and out of his comfort zone to attempt a rescue. The quest takes place almost entirely in remote Northern Mexico, where Walt is persona non grata in more ways than the obvious. He is a lawman on a lawless mission, not only the target of the narco-terrorist who holds his daughter captive, but also sought by both the Policia Federal and the FBI. His hopes of success are slim, and his prospects for survival are bleak as he struggles to save the one thing that is more precious than his own life. This is Longmire at his very best, relying on his indomitable will and physical toughness to do what must be done, while staying true to his basic humanity — if he can.

Therein lies the conundrum. Early on, Walt is told to “trust no one”, and to be ready to “kill anyone who comes at you”, which incidentally proves to be sage advice, and an admonition that is perilous to ignore. There is a phrase, often misquoted, from Freidrich Neitzsche, but the gist of it is, “if he lives through it, he’ll be better, stronger and wiser”. Boy Howdy, does that apply to Walt in this story. His greatest struggle, it turns out, is not with his enemies, but within himself, to remain true to his core beliefs in the face of insurmountable odds and unspeakable evil, when the forces arrayed against him hold all the cards. He has but one thought: to save his daughter, whatever the cost.

Along the way, Walt Longmire enlists the assistance of a legless blind hunchback, a mute Indian sharpshooter, a dangerous beauty, and her brother, a doctor named Martinez, who is instrumental to the story, and someone you just might recognize. Yep, THAT Martinez.

Tomas Bidarte lives up to his billing, that is to say he is a Villain worthy of the capital “V”. As the Cheyenne assert, a man is judged not only by his friends, but by the stature of his enemies. It is difficult to imagine a loftier measure of formidability than Bidarte. Walt is woefully unprepared, poorly armed, and bereft of his usual cadre of companions, yet he charges in anyway, convinced he has but one chance and very little time to save all that really matters in his life.

Aficionados will undoubtedly compare the travails of the Absaroka sheriff to his struggle in “Hell is Empty”, but from my perspective, this story could be subtitled as the remainder of the quote from Shakespeare’s Tempest, ‘…And all the Devils are here”. The story draws us into the terrible violence and brutality of the drug cartels, summed up in one unforgettable passage in which Dr. Martinez describes the procedure of separating a victim’s face from his head. I will never again be able to look at a soccer ball without thinking of this horror.

“Depth of Winter” is probably the best Longmire mystery yet. One thing is certain — you won’t put this one down, and you will be left wanting more.

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