“Land of Wolves” by Craig Johnson; © 2019, Viking. 320 pages
You can feel the eyes.
It’s as if someone’s touching you, but nobody’s near. Your shoulders roll and you try to resist the urge to look around — or maybe you don’t resist at all because of the creepiness of somebody watching you. In “Land of Wolves” by Craig Johnson, it’s odder still when you can’t see who — or what — it is.
It seemed a shame to sully the beauty of the Bighorn Mountain Range with blood but that’s what happened when slaughtered sheep kept showing up in Absaroka County’s meadows, putting the residents of Durant, Wyoming, on alert. Everybody blamed wolves, but Sheriff Walt Longmire wasn’t so sure.
Wolves supposedly hadn’t been spotted in the range in years.
That fact, however, didn’t explain the large dark male wolf that Longmire saw lurking in the trees. It was older, collared, and likely not a sheep killer, but its presence demanded investigation, leading to another issue: the dead sheep belonged to the county’s largest sheep rancher, and the Chilean shepherd in charge had gone missing.
Spending weeks alone in the mountains with nothing but sheep as company can be hard on a man and Longmire hoped that the Chilean had skedaddled from loneliness, despite that Miguel Hernandez didn’t appear to be the abandoning type. At least not on in the usual way, as Longmire learned when Hernandez’ body was discovered hanging in a tree near his campito.
But this didn’t seem like a suicide, and the woman who’d arrived in town to track Wolf Number 777W didn’t just seem like a researcher. Keasik Cheechoo was obnoxiously pushy, and her interest wasn’t only with the wolf; Longmire realized quickly that she knew an awful lot about Miguel Hernandez.
So did Abarrane “Abe” Extepare, the rancher who hired Hernandez. Extepare told Longmire that Hernandez was smart but “high strung” and that he couldn’t hack a life of solitude. Hernandez would’ve had human contact only once a month, when Extepare’s hired man or his son-in-law took supplies to the campito.
According to Extepare, though, this son-in-law, Donnie Lott, was trouble, too …
Beginning with an uncharacteristically magical plot thread, “Land of Wolves” takes a few minutes to settle into. That might be because it refers back to author Craig Johnson’s previous book quite a bit, assuming you’ve read it.
To refresh, or at the risk of spoiling, there was a good amount of grisly danger and lots of blood in “Depth of Winter” but the body count is considerably lower in this book, which has the definite feel of a sequel. The tamer atmosphere doesn’t make it any less thrilling, though; the mystery is just as you want it, nice and tight, accompanied by humor that peppers the story. This, and a hint of change will have fans chomping at the proverbial bit for more. How will you wait?
You can read “Land of Wolves” by itself and you’ll figure things out eventually, but you’ll be happier if you read its predecessor first. Then be prepared to lose track of time. Just watch.