by Craig Johnson
She was close to thirty years old when she was killed. A big girl, she liked to carouse with the boys at the local watering holes, which of course led to a lot of illegitimate children, but by all accounts, she was a pretty good single parent and could take care of herself and her brood. One night, though, a gang must have jumped her. . . and after they broke her leg and she was on the ground, it was pretty much over. (Dry Bones)
With a pair of dinosaur-crazy little boys, my family faithfully visits every dinosaur exhibit that hits North Texas. So when I learned that Craig Johnson, author of the bestselling Longmire mystery series, had patterned his latest book, Dry Bones, on a famous dinosaur fossil dispute, and that he was visiting Dallas on tour, I had to be there.
The mezzanine at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers at 7700 W. Northwest Highway in Dallas was packed with listeners. And if not necessarily dino-junkies, they were avid fans of Sheriff Walt Longmire, the law and order of Johnson’s fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. Johnson credits the inspiration for Dry Bones to a visit to the Natural History Museum in London. There with his granddaughter, he came across a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil from, of all places, Wyoming. Researching a multi-jurisdictional, multi-million dollar dispute over the famous T. rex “Sue”, now housed in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, he realized he had the bones of a story worth killing for.
“That’s all well and good,” he told his Dallas audience last Saturday, “but (Dry Bones) is a murder mystery, so somebody has to die.” Somebody whose death is more recent than the 65-million-year-old cold case of the dinosaur. Somebody human.
Who would want to harm elderly rancher Danny Lone Elk? The old man is an avid fisherman, prone to disappearing overnight while visiting the several fishing spots on his ranch. Surely his drowning death is accidental, maybe helped on by a nip or two from the whiskey flask found on his body. Still, Longmire is troubled. Lone Elk was an old friend. Worse,the sacred turtles the old man protected all his life had begun to feed on his drowned body. By the time he’s found, the eyes are gone. “Critters always go for them first. . . It was the face of a man I’d seen before, in my dreams. . . In the dreams, he also had no eyes.”
It’s a face Longmire will see again, and not just in his dreams. Nor is he the only person who claims to have been Danny Lone Elk walking the earth after his death. And although his death at first seemed accidental, he was an excellent swimmer. And why, as a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t touched a drop in years, was he carrying a flask filled with whiskey?
With the ranch the old Native left behind now the site of a highly-disputed and potentially highly-lucrative paleontological excavation, everywhere Longmire looks there are more people with motives to kill.