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by Craig Johnson
Viking, May 2024
333 pages
ISBN: 0593830687

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

FIRST FROST, which takes place in two time periods, deals with a defining moment in Walt Longmire's ethical development. On the one hand, he is the subject of a preliminary hearing in the present, facing possible charges due to his handling of the events in the previous book, THE LONGMIRE DEFENSE. While his ethical code comes into play in this plot thread, it is the start of the development of that code in 1964 that occupies the majority of the book.

In '64, Longmire and Henry Standing Bear have just graduated from college in California, thus losing their military deferments, and have enlisted to avoid being drafted. They are getting ready to take a road trip cross country to their respective posts when a storm swamps and destroys a fishing boat. The boys are on the beach and rush out to save the drowning crew members without thought for their own safety. This altruistic act reverberates throughout the book as its repercussions require Walt to reflect upon what is good, right, and true and what is not. It also provides for some thrilling and fast-paced reading.

As they begin their journey, an accident brings them to a very odd tiny and remote town in northern Arizona. Here they encounter racism and close-mindedness toward the Japanese carried over from WWII. The town includes the ruins of an internment camp, as well as a very few individuals with Japanese blood. However, it is made up mainly of a heavy-handed autocrat and his followers, none of whom want Walt and Henry to find out what's been going on in town. Nonetheless, Walt senses that something bad has happened and is unwilling to mind his own business and leave town. The result is a lot of violence that only increases when a group of apparent Japanese gang members show up. The resolution of this situation and the story behind the internment camp come together as Walt reflects upon his responsibility in the face of violence perpetrated in the cause of racism. There is so much action in this thread of the novel that it is hard to believe Walt and Henry actually are able to report to duty in time.

As always in this series, the characterization is very strong. The plot's emphasis on Walt's moral development guarantees that it adds to even the most ardent reader of the series' understanding of Walt's character. Henry plays more of a side-kick role, and other characters are well fleshed out, though not as deeply as Walt. The descriptions during the beach scenes and the road trip are almost cinematic in detail. The same level of detail is brought to the current timeframe as well, contrasting Walt's early days with his latter.

I would recommend reading THE LONGMIRE DEFENSE before FIRST FROST, since so much of what happens during the hearing is based upon events from that previous book. If the reader were to jump into FIRST FROST without that background, it might be difficult to follow the hearing sections. Those sections provide a frame for the much more central 1960's plot. I enjoyed the visit to Walt's past, and I was delighted to read in the author's notes that he is planning more of this retrospective approach in future books. I was also delighted to hear simply that he is planning to continue the series. FIRST FROST is the 20th Longmire book, but Johnson is keeping it fresh with this approach.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, May 2024

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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