Walt Longmire and gang return in the second book of Craig Johnson's Absaroka County series. DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY finds Walt investigating the death of Mari Baroja. Baroja's death appears to be of natural causes, but Lucien Connally insists that there is foul play in the death of his...wife? Walt begins investigating to find out that there is indeed foul play and a whole lot of money at stake; the question then becomes just how deep does this foul run?
When I finished THE COLD DISH, I recall hoping Lucien would be back playing a more prominent role. It was as if Johnson heard my request. However, DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY was written before I read THE COLD DISH, please pay no attention the reviewer with a ridiculous sense of self-aggrandizement. Regardless, I was happy to see Lucien not only back, but at the center of all the hoopla. Johnson brings Lucien's back story out in grand fashion, which is only befitting a character as spectacular as the one-legged, former sheriff of Absaroka County.
Also in this installment, Johnson introduces a couple new characters; one of whom is Santiago Saizarbitoria, a.k.a. "Sancho." He's come to town to apply for the deputy's position with Walt and Vic. Also joining the tight-knit community is Lana Baroja, the young town baker and granddaughter of Mari Baroja. Craig Johnson truly has a gift with characters. I don't think stereotype is in his vocabulary. Instead he has extra helpings of "depth," "dimension," "dynamics," and of course "humor."
But as great as Johnson is with his characters, there's one element he's even better with - I guess it's technically related to character, but - Johnson knocks the ball out of the park with his relationships between characters. Lucien and Walt could be playing chess for the entire duration of the novel and you'd be glued to the book simply because the interaction between these two characters is so magnificent:
"We looked at each other like we had for decades, a blind man talking to a deaf one. There was a line that neither of us was able to cross; his sneering at my supposed weakness and my righteous indignation at his immortality."
And each of these men would give his life for the other. As a reader I want to be a part of all that, so Johnson rolls out the red carpet and invites you in. It's hard not to feel like you're riding in Walt's truck, sitting at the counter in the Bee, or observing a hot game of chess in Room 32 at the Durant Home for Assisted Living.
As with THE COLD DISH, the setting also becomes a prominent character in DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY. Mother Nature can be beautiful and devastating, but she's still a major character; Johnson depicts Nature's relationships with the human characters as vividly and grand as with any other. Johnson does for Wyoming what Burke does for Louisiana:
"The sweeping current of Clear Creek yanked me below as my one eye looked for the surface by following the bubbles as they swirled away from me and began a stately rise to the air above. Paisleys of plum and electric green and the stark white of the moon reflected in the world I had come from....I was bleeding adrenaline, and the areas of unprotected skin were now absolutely numb. There were shadowy, echoing sounds that approached from all directions. With a sudden exertion, I slapped my hands against the smooth facade of the underside of the ice as part of my remaining air escaped with a faint rumbling noise that matched the thumping of my hands against the hard surface."
My heart raced; I shivered with cold; and I didn't notice any of it until after it was already happening. The plot of DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY has a great mystery, but the even greater mystery is how anyone could read it and not simply drift away into Johnson's beloved Wyoming and Walt's beloved Absaroka. The poetry of Johnson's prose envelope's the reader, blocking the rest of the world out. And when the reader turns that last page, and Johnson releases him/her, a small part of that world goes along in their head until the reader can return once again.
I think it goes without saying that DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY receives my highest recommendation. Another astounding effort by Craig Johnson.