Craig Johnson’s The Dark Horse is his fifth contemporary mystery featuring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire.
What would you want everyone to know about Walt’s home state of Wyoming?
It’s diverse, and even if there are only 535,000 of us, it’s not as square as it looks, culturally or physically. We get called “the big empty,” but open places tend to draw in the interesting.
What made you decide to set The Dark Horse outside of Walt’s jurisdiction?
I overheard a conversation in a Wyoming sheriff’s office when one sheriff called another to see if he’d mind if he came into the other sheriff’s county and took a look around—it concerned a case he was working on. Now, as an ex-cop pretty familiar with the fiefdoms that can result out of jurisdictional application, I was curious to see how this other sheriff would respond. The sheriff in whose office I was sitting put his hand over the phone and said, “He says he’ll pay for my gas.” I thought it was so funny, I ended up putting it in the book.
Native American culture figures prominently in your books. What’s your inspiration?
My ranch is adjacent to both the Crow and Cheyenne reservations, and I’ve got an awful lot of friends up there. They’re an amazing people; I’m consistently humbled by how remarkable they are. There’s one guy, Marcus Red Thunder, whom I use freely in assembling the character of Henry Standing Bear. He’s got a sharp sense of humor. Most Indians I know have great senses of humor. Of course, looking at the treatment of Native Americans from a historical perspective, you have to laugh or you’d end up crying your eyes out.
Do you consider your books to be “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.
Like Walt, you also live in a small Wyoming town. Do people assume that the two of you are interchangeable?
At events, a lot of people start their questions with, “So when you and Henry went up in the mountains....” I always correct them, for fear that they might want me to arrest someone.