Sunday, June 3, 2012

Craig Johnson's LONGMIRE

Tonight (Sunday, June 3rd) at 10:00PM (Eastern) on A&E, the first of a planned 10-episode series featuring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire will be shown.

The series stars Robert Taylor (The Matrix) as Longmire and Lou Diamond Phillips as Standing Bear.  Phillips is well known for many roles including the Tony Hillerman adaptations.  Others in the cast include Kattee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), Cassidy Freeman (Smallville), and Amber Midthunder.

I have long touted Craig Johnson’s books, a genre series which is narrated in the first-person by Longmire, but I’m uncertain how this will translate onto the screen.  His very literary Hell Is Empty was one of the best books of any kind I read last year and I reviewed it glowingly in this blog.

Most of the good things are the thoughts rattling around inside the sheriff/protagonist’s head, and a lot of it is when he is brooding alone on things. With other people, he tends to be understated and introverted.

Still, I’m mighty glad for the author.  He’s a Wyoming family rancher writing stretchers which have become successful. Years before he became a novelist, we used to read his horse-training articles in various equine-related magazines. When he gives talks before book groups, he is funny and self-effacing while looking the part of his fictional character.

LONGMIRE seems well-cast and the novels deserve an honest production. If so, it might inspire other modern westerns with a sense of humor.

Novels featuring modern small-town western lawmen are a genre unto themselves, of course, and in this blog I've reviewed several of them including James Lee Burke's Rain Gods, the western mysteries of A. B. Guthrie, Jr., Jamie Harrison's The Edge of the Crazies, and Richard Hugo's Death and the Good Life.

I guess we should count Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, though McCarthy takes the genre format and turns it into a literary comment on the nature of man.  The duality is the ruthless animal man Chigurh and his opposite Sheriff Bell, the ultimate compassionate man.  The trinity is completed with Moss, the man torn between the two, between the light and the darkness.

Moss can take the drug money and leave a man to die in the heat of the Apollonian sun, but at night his conscience will not let him rest until he takes water back to the man, as if a glass of water would plug up the holes in him.  The symbolic reading is the only way the novel makes sense, and it is the source of the novel's greatness.

You won't need a symbolic reading for Craig Johnson's novels until you get to Hell Is Empty.  It will be interesting to see how they play that on screen.    

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