It’s winter and Sheriff Walt Longmire, head of law enforcement in a small Wyoming town, is tired of the ice and snow. His latest case starts when a couple from the local junkyard inadvertently tow their grandfather behind the family car across the ice for a couple of miles. (The old man doesn’t seem much discommoded by the experience, despite a dislocated shoulder.) Next there’s the discovery of a severed thumb in a cooler someone’s dumped at the junkyard. And next . . . well, things start to get really serious from there, with a couple of murders and the unearthing of a conspiracy run by the Aryan Brotherhood.
I laughed aloud quite a few times while reading this book — including the explanation as to quite how Grampus got roped to the back of the car. Some of the novel’s humor derives from Longmire’s dour but very human outlook on the world, and the one-liners he produces. Then there’s his red-hot sidekick Vic, and her highly entertaining, expletive-riddled use of language. But a lot of the humor is situational — not, I should stress, in a sitcom manner but more like that in an old Warner Bros. ‘toon, where a seemingly mundane premise leads via individually quite logical steps to a ludicrous — and ludicrously funny — outcome. It’s the kind of humor of which Carl Hiaasen is a master.
I’m stressing the lighter side of the novel, because Johnson cleverly uses it to take quite a lot of the sting out of the book’s darker aspects while at the same time bringing them, somehow, closer to home. As we rock with laughter at some of the clowning, we become aware that among those “clowns” may in fact be deeply evil, deeply ruthless people. (Having typed that sentence I’ve just realized how topical the book is, in a way.)
Junkyard Dogs is a rapid and thoroughly enjoyable read, with characters for whom it’s possible to generate a fair deal of affection. I’ll be revisiting Longmire and his crew.