by Sharon Tucker
I read The Cold Dish a few years back and thanks to Craig Johnson’s talents as a born storyteller, felt immediately connected to the modern West of his Walt Longmire. Even a reader like me with great appreciation for but little connection to the American West, who has no experience of guns, and who is vastly ignorant of Indian culture and law enforcement techniques finds she is suddenly comfortable and even mildly conversant about all of the former. (Ask me about Sharps rifles sometime.) Longmire’s Absaroka County in Wyoming is so well crafted that readers can just walk into life in the environs of Durant, Wyoming and the Big Horn Mountains bordering the small town.
Durant is peopled by a cast of challenging and complex personalities, principally: Longmire himself, Longmire’s lifelong friend Henry Standing Bear, former sheriff Lucian Connolly, and Philadelphia transplant and deputy, Victoria Moretti. How Longmire fits, yet doesn’t quite fit into his traditionally masculine world marks him with an attractive level of vulnerability that is in sharp contrast to his other characters. The Bear is an almost mythic figure who embodies mysticism and physical prowess, yet never loses his wry humor about it all. Connolly is the walking embodiment of an earlier mode of law enforcement whose time may have passed but whose abilities are more sharply honed than ever.
The lack of humor and seeming invulnerability of Victoria Moretti works against female stereotype to the extent that I had a hard time liking her when the other characters became immediate favorites. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who was fairly annoyed by Moretti’s appalling language and take-no-prisoners attitude. Look, I’m Southern, of an academic bent, and while profanity can oft-times be justified, Vic has all sorts of hirsute, burly and nautically inclined men blushing as they go about their daily tasks. As for her attitude, well, at least she’s not all mouth and she rarely defers to anyone.
Perhaps the turning point for Moretti’s gaining my somewhat grudging respect was in Johnson’s third Longmire novel, Kindness Goes Unpunished, in which The Bear, Dog and Longmire drive from Wyoming across the U.S. to visit his daughter Cady in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and to meet her fellow attorney and fiancé. Effectively, this leaves Moretti in charge of the county and she is more than up to the responsibility.
In fact, Longmire has in mind that she should be the next county sheriff after he has accommodated voters to the competence that far outweighs her abrasiveness. In the pages that follow we learn that Moretti comes from a family of police officers and that her father, (for the purposes of this novel) the original Vic Moretti, is known in his family, and especially by her, as Super Cop.
Perhaps the most telling indicator of their family dynamic is that the muscles of Moretti’s jaw clench whenever her father is mentioned. Vic, the father has all the personal style and drama of an opera singer, just what he happens to be in his spare time. When in the course of the novel, readers finally meet the head of the Moretti familia, he lives up to his daughter’s hype: egotistical, unforgiving, and commanding, but with a certain charm that many powerful men possess.
It’s notable too that Vic the daughter (AKA Vic the holy terror) grew up with only brothers and that her mother is a bit in the shadows for reasons best read in the novel. How all this plays out in the personality of Longmire’s Vic is a bit predictable without being trite. She is professionally and personally secure and intensely loyal to the few people she respects. I like it that she lacks archetypical daddy issues, but instead has family issues–so much more complex. I also like that she is ostensibly tougher than Longmire who is a pianist, quite literary, and possesses a wry sense of humor that makes me laugh aloud often. The contrast makes for excellent reading.
Of course I have already read Johnson’s Any Other Name that came out last month, but I didn’t count on getting caught up into binge reading the first part of the series again, which I did. For the sake of reading library books I already had checked out, I drew the line at starting The Dark Horse when I still had a TBR pile of epic proportions. However, reading the first three novels again made me realize even more that what drew me in to Johnson’s West also made me appreciate Vic Moretti and I am the richer for it.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Click on this link to purchase most of these books & a portion goes to help support KRL!