Before the latest Longmire book came out -- it turned up in my e-reader app yesterday morning and I finished it by that afternoon -- I had devoured all 16 of C.J. Box's Joe Pickett books. Both are set in fictional counties in Wyoming, and both involve the named protagonist in the solving of mysteries.
Most people only know the Longmire on TV (returning soon for Season 5 on Netflix), but apart from the characters' names and the Wyoming setting (though filmed in New Mexico) the TV series is a different critter with a more troubled, less confident Walt than in the books. And the literary Henry Standing Bear makes Lou Diamond Phillips' version, however well portrayed, look like a koala.
Well, Joe Pickett is a game warden, employed (in most of the books) by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. He's not supposed to solve crimes unless they're committed against elk, sage grouse, or cutthroat trout. And the first time we meet him in "Open Season," he's trying to cite a poacher who ends up taking Pickett's gun and stopping just short of blowing the game warden's brains out.
Similar mishaps befall him in most of the books, but even before this incident he was already famous for citing the Governor for fishing without a license -- something most of his colleagues consider a damn fool stunt.
Thing is, a few months later the man who grabbed his gun is found murdered in Pickett's home woodpile, and the mystery of why he's there doesn't seem to interest Twelve Sleep County's sheriff as much as it does Pickett.
After having immersed myself in sixteen years worth of Box's Wyoming -- the Pickett books come out every March like clockwork; I wish I had his discipline -- the new Longmire book, "An Obvious Fact," was a chance to revisit Johnson's. It's less political than Box's stories -- heck, it's even less political than the "Longmire" TV series -- and also more comfortably masculine.
Well, part of that is because Walt Longmire is a widower and his best friend is tall, dark and savagely noble. Joe Pickett, on the other hand, is married and he and his wife Marybeth have spent the book years raising three girls on a paltry state salary and whatever his wife can earn at the local library or as a free-lance business manager. And while Walt approaches his job philosophically, Joe is kind of a stickler (hence the ticket he wrote against the Governor) for whom his occasional acts of badassery, demanded by exigent circumstances (nearly always to protect his wife and daughters), are departures he prefers not to let become habitual.
I like Longmire because he's an example. I like Pickett because he's the kind of guy Longmire would be an example for. And I'm looking forward to next March to find out what happens to him next.