Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Messenger - Craig Johnson

First line: "It was one of those late summer days that sometimes showed up in early October after a killing frost--warm, dry, and hazy; Indian summer."

"The Messenger" is Craig Johnson's newest short story. A little snack for Walt Longmire fans to enjoy while they wait for the June release of A Serpent's Tooth. Craig describes these shorts as the "connecting tissue" between the novels. He says they are "little stories that aren't so much of a mystery but are more revealing of character."

The cells that make up the "Messenger" tissue are Walt, Vic and Henry. They've been on a fishing trip and are headed home when an SOS is issued over Walt's police radio from a game warden atop a...yes, porta-potty, or what the park literature calls "a self-contained, free-standing restroom facility." A woman is trying to use the "facility" when something attacks her. She runs from the small building only to find bears waiting outside. She and the warden scramble to escape to his truck, but are cornered by the bears; their only option is to scale the porta potty and evade the bears on its roof.

When Walt, Vic and Henry arrive, Henry coaxes the bears away with the fish they caught on their trip, but the mystery of what is IN the port-potty remains unsolved. Meanwhile the septic service workers are on their way to pump out the john for the season. With a set-up like this, you know that mayhem ensues like only Craig Johnson can create.

One of the joys I look forward to each year is picking up the newest Walt Longmire for a visit with my favorite folks in Absoroka County. So when a little slice is offered up to tide me over until the full novel arrives, I snatch the chance. While the slice is only about 20 pages of story, it's a delightful 20 pages: a great end to a day or a relaxing way to spend a lunch hour. You know those times when a little story is just perfect?

Johnson's humor, his love of the land, the rich characters; they're all present. An element of Walt's character that has been growing stronger with each book is his sense of family, and Johnson examines that a bit further in this tale as well.

With the presence of Henry, Johnson offers up a new element of Native culture; readers can't escape without a little knowledge thrown in for good measure. Fear not, it's fascinating and enlightening.

As a disclosure, I will not promise that you won't finish the story with an ear worm or that you won't be chomping at the bit to lay your hands on A Serpent's Tooth. For that latter issue, the story offers a small consolation: the first chapter to A Serpent's Tooth. Just remember, if you read it right away, you still have to wait until June for the full novel.

"The Messenger" will be available for ebook download at Amazon, B&N and iTunes this Tuesday and a part of the proceeds from story will go to the Teton Raptor Center in Wyoming. A Serpent's Tooth slithers into bookstores this June, and in May, you can get the Stay Calm, Have Courage and Wait for Signs collection of stories ("The Messenger" is not included in this collection). You can read more about the collection on Craig's website.

Now go forth and enjoy the tales from a master storyteller!


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