Dead shepherd, renegade wolf appear in new Longmire mystery, ‘Land of Wolves’

Sept. 16 (UPI) — Walt Longmire isn’t an anti-hero or a supernatural being, which makes him a rare breed in the cultural landscape of the 21st century.

The much-loved, fictional sheriff at the heart of Craig Johnson’s mystery novel series and its popular TV adaptation is a flawed, but fundamentally decent man.

His popularity suggests millions of readers and viewers are eager to root for a good guy with integrity, common sense and compassion.

“It speaks to a larger zeitgeist of society,” Johnson told UPI in a recent phone interview from his Wyoming ranch, noting how in art — and life — some people stoke division, while others solve problems.

Walt Longmire is one of the latter.

“He’s not a superhero. He’s damaged goods with the death of his wife, with the complexities of his life,” the author said. “But he still tries to get up in the morning and do the right thing, and I think that resonates with people.”

The latest Longmire novel, Land of Wolves — available Tuesday — finds the lawman back in Wyoming after his death-defying, Mexican adventure in 2018’s Depth of Winter.

“It’s been a battle for poor Walt to get back home,” Johnson said. “I don’t ever want to write books where Walt is up against cardboard cutouts. I want him against multi-dimensional, complex individuals.”

Depth of Winter followed Walt as he took on the ruthless leader of a drug cartel who kidnapped his adult daughter, Cady.

The determined father ultimately rescues his only child, but without the usual resources and support system he has when solving crimes in rural Absaroka County.

The ordeal posed psychological, as well as physical challenges, for the Vietnam veteran and widower.

“He has to go places that he hasn’t been in a long time to get the job done down there in Mexico and become a man that, maybe, he very carefully packed away and did not want to have come back out,” Johnson said.

“He is having a hard time getting that guy put completely away,” he added. “He doesn’t want to go all the way back into that cedar chest and be packed away in the eiderdown.”

Land of Wolves opens with the apparent suicide of a shepherd in the Bighorn Mountains and focuses on the difficulties that arise from that investigation, which include the unwanted arrival of an old, gray, “renegade wolf” that’s been kicked out of the Lamar Valley packs.

“Amazingly enough, Walt has a little bit of a connection to this wolf. He seems to have an awfully symbiotic relationship with him,” Johnson said.

Longmire mysteries

The colorful cast of characters in Johnson’s books are loosely based on people the author knows or has heard about, and many of Walt’s cases are inspired by real-life incidents that spotlight social issues and are reported in small-town newspapers in Wyoming, South Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and Utah.

Each novel covers a few months in Walt’s life, so he ages at about one-fourth the rate the author and readers do.

The series also revisits the protagonist at different stages of his life through flashbacks, so readers get to see Walt as a young U.S. Marine, English major at the University of Southern California and sheriff’s deputy.

Johnson has a simple reply for readers irked by the events of one of his stories, “Don’t worry, the next book is completely different.”

He already is working on his 16th full-length novel featuring Walt.

The Next to Last Stand is an art-heist caper set for publication in 2020.

Fans shouldn’t be concerned that the book’s title is an omen that Walt is getting ready to hang up his hat.

Johnson still has plenty of stories about him to tell.

“I’m not in any kind of hurry to have this all end,” he said. “I really still enjoy just crawling in the truck with Walt and seeing where he is going to go and what’s going to happen.”

TV revival could happen

Johnson’s series of books are the foundation of the TV drama Longmire, which starred Robert Taylor as Walt and aired on A&E and Netflix from 2012 to 2017. The ensemble also included Lou Diamond Phillips, Cassidy Freeman, Katee Sackhoff, Adam Bartley, Zahn McClarnon, Louanne Stephens, A. Martinez and Barry Sloane.

The show shared some DNA with western movies and TV shows of yesteryear that starred Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, but it also was distinctly its own entity, Johnson said.

Set in a beautiful, sparsely populated location on the edge of a Native American reservation, Longmire was a contemporary drama that depicted how violent and depraved criminals could be, but also showed Walt and his deputies Vic and Ferg ready to risk their lives to bring the bad guys to justice.

“The world that Walt faces is a lot more complex, maybe, than the world of the singing cowboys. I don’t think we’re ever going to hear Walt singing about breaking the door down of a crackhouse,” Johnson laughed.

For the past two years, the show’s legions of fans have campaigned for its revival, while new viewers are discovering reruns all the time on Netflix.

Johnson hopes Longmire continues either with a new season or a series of special event-style TV movies.

The author joined many of the show’s former stars at this summer’s Longmire Days fan convention — for which about 20,000 people flocked to Buffalo, Wyo., population 4,000.

The actors are “utterly fired up” to get the band back together, he said.

Netflix, which had been licensing Longmire, canceled the show when Warner Bros. declined to sell it outright. The Netflix-WB contract must now run its course before Longmire can be picked up elsewhere, possibly by the WB streaming platform that was announced about six months ago.

“An awful lot of these studios are withdrawing their material back from Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and a lot of these other platforms because they learned, ‘Hey, making TV shows and movies is hard, but starting up a broadcasting platform really isn’t all that difficult,'” Johnson said.

“It would be kind of silly for them to not think about maybe doing some more Longmire. We’ll wait and see what happens.”