Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Review: A Serpent's Tooth

Title: A Serpent’s Tooth
Author: Craig Johnson
Publisher: Viking
Price: $26.95 (Hardcover)

I’ve read every single Walt Longmire mystery in the series. That tells you how much I like the characters, the storyline and the writing. A Serpent’s Tooth doesn’t disappoint. From the moment Walt jails a “lost boy” with no apparent connections, to the arrival of the ghost of Orrin Porter Rockwell – a legendary enforcer for the founders of the Mormon religion, right down to the confrontation with greedy thieves hauling oil out of a camouflaged canyon by the truckloads, the action moves with lightening speed.

Henry Standing Bear, Vic Morretti and the rest of the sheriff’s crew do their part to keep the action lively. The dialogue is crisp, the mystery compelling, the characters well defined and the premise timely.

Author Craig Johnson has a way of engaging the reader by weaving current events, history, literary references, spirituality and a touch of romance into his novels. 

Walt Longmire is clearly a man to be reckoned with, unwilling to vary from his personal true north, which is to protect those who need protection and go after the bad guys with relentless determination.
In A Serpent’s Tooth the difficulty lies in who to go after. The boy, Cord, is from a compound posing as a religious community, but Walt has his doubts. There’s something odd about Cord, the place he comes from and the disappearance of the boy’s mother.

Walt must look beyond the obvious, tread carefully through a morass of unrelated clues, and determine what crime has been committed and by whom.

It’s further complicated by suspicions that a couple of Walt’s deputies may have known more about what’s going on than they let on. And then there’s the guy claiming to be with the CIA on behalf of Homeland Security. Who is he? Is he telling the truth? Walt is on the hunt, and he won’t quit until he has the answers, all the answers.

Johnson, a proud resident of U-Cross, Wyo., is a New York Times best selling author with eight published novels, several of which have won awards and critical acclaim.
In a radio interview I did with Johnson a year ago, he talked about how important it is for his

characters – particularly Sheriff Longmire – to be realistic. In the development of Longmire he spent hours with working sheriffs and other law enforcement personnel learning how it’s done. Detail is important to him as is understanding and conveying the complexity of his characters.

In a Publisher’s Weekly interview, Johnson was asked if his books are “westerns.”

“They are in the sense that they’re novels set in the American West, but I try to deal with the universal imperative of the human condition. I love and live in the West, but I also try to be honest about it. I’d be a fool to not realize that there’s a certain amount of baggage that goes along with writing contemporary western fiction, but instead of falling into the ruts, I try and take it down the road less traveled.”

Johnson is good at taking his readers down that road, and he’s good at telling stories, which is the best thing you can say about a writer no matter what genre they’re writing in.

A Serpent’s Tooth is available at booksellers nationwide, and through online retailers. For more information about the author and his books go to


This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine, published by Happenstance Publishing. For more information go to

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