Craig Johnson will talk about ‘Longmire’ mystery series during Vegas Valley Book Festival

Craig Johnson explores modern-day terrain in his series of mysteries featuring Walt Longmire, sheriff of what the author describes as “the least-populated county in the least-populated state in the union.”

He will discuss the series and TV tie-in at 4 p.m. Saturday during the Vegas Valley Book Festival at the Historic Fifth Street School, 401 S. Fourth St. The talk is free and open to the public.

In the series, the modern-day West is as much a character as Longmire himself. So are the books Westerns that happen to involve mysteries or mysteries that happen to take place in the contemporary West?

“I write in two different genres, both mystery and in Westerns,” Johnson says. “But when you get right down to it, a mystery, an awful lot of the time, has to do with plot, where a Western has to do with environment and character. For me, that’s always going to be a larger part of my books than just plot line. It’s the interactions and relationships with the characters.”

Johnson was born in West Virginia but has lived in Wyoming for much of his life. As both an inhabitant and chronicler of the contemporary West, he loves it that, even today, the West is “still alive, still evolving. For me, that’s part of the excitement I want to be able to write about and utilize as a place I live in or visit. There is a vibrancy to it that’s kind of wonderful.”

But Johnson’s modern-day West also is a setting for murder, strained cultural relationships with Native American people and the continuing encroachment of less-pleasant demons of urbanized life.

“One of the dirty little secrets about my books is, a majority of the plot lines of my books tend to come with newspaper articles,” Johnson says. “I go around Wyoming and Montana and I go collect newspaper articles. I read newspapers everywhere I go. That’s kind of what keeps Walt grounded in reality. That’s what real Western sheriffs deal with.”

That grounding in reality also spills over into the series’ main character.

“Walt is a little bit different of a protagonist than you see in crime fiction,” Johnson says. “There, it’s a 6-2 guy, and Walt’s kind of like us. He’s over — overweight, overage, he gets overly depressed. But he still gets up in the morning and tries to do his job. For me, that’s a more realistic type of character.”

Longmire has transitioned from the pages of Johnson’s novels to TV, in a series currently seen on Netflix. Even though the cinematic depiction of Longmire differs a bit from the books, Johnson is happy with the adaptation.

The producers wanted the same sort of tone the books had, he says, although “that still didn’t make it any less weird seeing your character up on the screen.

“People always ask, ‘What’s that like?’ The only way I can describe it is, it’s like having a houseplant for seven or eight years, and you come downstairs one morning and have it start talking to you. It’s wonderful, but still kind of weird.”

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