Excerpt: The Western Star by Craig Johnson

I’ve been following Craig Johnson’s Western mysteries since his “Old Indian Trick” won the 2005 Tony Hillerman/PEN USA Mystery Short Story Contest sponsored and judged by Cowboys & Indians magazine back when I was an editor there. I remember being captivated by his characters, settings, and masterful storytelling. Johnson’s gone on to earn New York Times best-seller status, and his Walt Longmire series launched the highly successful drama Longmire starring Robert Taylor, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Katee Sackoff (now on Netflix). 

Johnson’s newest Longmire novel is The Western Star, and we are pleased to excerpt it here. —Margaret Brown

About the Book:

The thirteenth novel in Craig Johnson’s beloved New York Times bestselling Longmire series, the basis for the hit Netflix series Longmire

Sheriff Walt Longmire is enjoying a celebratory beer after a weapons certification at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy when a younger sheriff confronts him with a photograph of twenty-five armed men standing in front of a Challenger steam locomotive. It takes him back to when, fresh from the battlefields of Vietnam, then-deputy Walt accompanied his mentor Lucian to the annual Wyoming Sheriff’s Association junket held on the excursion train known as the Western Star, which ran the length of Wyoming from Cheyenne to Evanston and back. Armed with his trusty Colt .45 and a paperback of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, the young Walt was ill-prepared for the machinations of twenty-four veteran sheriffs, let alone the cavalcade of curious characters that accompanied them. 

The photograph—along with an upcoming parole hearing for one of the most dangerous men Walt has encountered in a lifetime of law enforcement—hurtles the sheriff into a head-on collision of past and present, placing him and everyone he cares about squarely on the tracks of runaway revenge.

Read an Excerpt:

Featured in Dec/Jan 2018 Issue: On The Range

I pressed in on the knurled end of my Colt 1911A1 with my thumb at the same time rotating the barrel bushing a quarter turn clockwise to free the plug and recoil assembly, my hands working from rote.  “Business.”

Joe Iron Cloud, the young Arapaho sheriff, held up my silhouette target, the fluorescent light beaming through the holes tightly grouped at the center with only one high and slightly off to the right. “I guess business was good.”

I removed the mechanism, rotating the plug in a counter- clockwise direction to free it from the spring. “I suppose.”

Some of the other sheriffs came over to join Joe, who chewed his gum like a masticating machine. “When did you start carrying that thing?”

Concentrating on the work in an attempt to try to get out of the mood into which I was descending, I rotated the barrel bushing counterclockwise, disengaging it from the slide. “Vietnam.”

Steve Wolf, the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy’s range manager, approached and handed me a clipboard.  “Walt, I need you to sign off on these.”

The younger sheriffs drifted away as I signed the forms, and the silver-haired man studied me.

“Mind if I ask why you do this?” Steve watched me continue to disassemble my weapon. “Come all the way down here every four years and requalify?”

I handed the paperwork back, shrugged, and leaned against the green felt bench. “A lot of these larger departments have facilities where they can do this stuff, but we’re kind of small. The only range we’ve got is outdoors, and come November, my undersheriff really doesn’t care for that.”

The range manager smiled and glanced at Victoria Moretti, who was in the process of cleaning her own weapon. “I’d imagine.” He was silent for a moment. “That, and the academy happens to be on the way to Cheyenne, where you go for a four-year parole hearing.”

I glanced at him and then went back to working on my weapon. “Yep.”

He waited a moment. “Lot of controversy surrounding that case.”


“Lots of rumors.” “Yep.”

Smiling, he pushed off the bench and started for his office, but then stopped to call back, “Hey, I heard a rumor that your daughter is working for Joe Meyer and that collection of out- laws down there in the attorney general’s office.”

Having reassembled the Colt, I finally turned to look at him. “Yep.”

“She living in Cheyenne?” “Yep.”

“Well, maybe we’ll see you more often?” “Nope.”

He shook his head and then turned away. “Really good talking with you, Walt.”

As I took my time to carefully oil the exterior of my side- arm, I found myself staring at the forest-green felt, stained with the oil from thousands of weapons that had been taken apart and put back together on its surface. I wondered how many men had been taken apart and put back together in the process.

“You keep playing with that thing and you’re going to wear it out.” Iron Cloud barked a laugh. “At least, that’s what my mother used to tell me.” I turned and looked at him, his broad grin splitting his suntanned face like a shearing glacier. “How ’bout having a beer with us?”

I reloaded the one round in the pipe, filled the magazine, slipped it between the ancient, yellowed stag grips, and placed the Colt into the pancake holster at the small of my back. “Sorry, Joe, I have to get to Cheyenne. Besides, Lucian is waiting on us back at the hotel.” 

Excerpt from The Western Star by Craig Johnson, published on September 5, 2017 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright by Craig Johnson, 2017.

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