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‘Land of Wolves’ author moseys between stacks at the ranch

Judith Johnson

Nothing ever seems to go right for Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire, the hero of Craig Johnson’s best-selling mystery series. In the newest, “Land of Wolves,” Longmire investigates a suicidal hanging of a shepherd that doesn’t add up, a case that becomes more complicated when an oversized wolf shows up in the Big Horn Mountains.

This is the 15th entry in the Longmire saga, which is set in northern Wyoming and inspired a TV series on A&E and then on Netflix. Johnson was born in Huntington, West Virginia, but has long lived on a ranch in Ucross, Wyoming, population 25.

BOOKS: What are you reading?


JOHNSON: In the stack by my bed I have Rachel Kushner’s “The Mars Room, ” which is edgy and urban, and Amor Towles’s “A Gentleman in Moscow,” which I’m rereading. I didn’t know Tennessee Williams wrote a collection of short stories called “Hard Candy.” I discovered that it was one of Tom Waits’s favorite books so I ordered that up. You can read Williams’s plays over and over again and they never lose their vibrancy.

BOOKS: How many stacks do you have?

JOHNSON: I come from a family whose idea of hell is to be caught somewhere without a book so I have little reading stations everywhere. I might be the only rancher in the county who has a bookshelf in his barn so while I’m waiting for the horse troughs to fill up I’ve got something to read.

BOOKS: Is there any theme to the stacks?

JOHNSON: No. I really enjoy reading different things. My ranch truck has a weather-beaten copy of Gary Zukav’s book on physics, “Dancing Wu Li Masters,” sliding around on the dash. I think you can get into trouble when you get into ruts with your reading.

BOOKS: Have you ever gotten in a reading rut?


JOHNSON: I just got into one. When I did the Nantucket Book Festival I met Nathaniel Philbrick. It was like meeting Mt. Rushmore. After I met him I went back and found all his books that I hadn’t read. The last one was “Why Read Moby-Dick?” You find an author you enjoy and it’s hard not to become a serial reader.

BOOKS: What other author have you read a lot by?

JOHNSON: I’m a big John Steinbeck fan. He’s like literary napalm for me. It sticks and burns. I read one and then go back and read another. Dickens is another that I love to reread and George MacDonald Fraser, a Scottish writer who wrote the Flashman series, which has one of the most despicable characters but you forgive him because he is also hilarious. He’s one of the funniest writers I know. When I find no humor in a novel at all I find that painful. I wonder what kind of life the author is leading.

BOOKS: Do you have go-to authors for humor?

JOHNSON: A guy in Oregon, Willy Vlautin, who has a real sublime sense of humor and wrote “Lean on Pete.” I’m looking for humor, not comedy, and that takes story and character development. There’s a lot of humor in the Kushner book.

BOOKS: Do you read mysteries?

JOHNSON: I never read that many mystery novels to be honest. My wife does. I have read the golden era mystery writers, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett. I think if you are reading what you are writing it can get trite.


BOOKS: Who are your favorite Western writers?

JOHNSON: James Lee Burke is a marvelous, marvelous writer. The ones that I like take a more psychological bent to the Western. I’m a big fan of Louis l’Amour and Zane Grey but writers have to do something different at this point, like writers who built on that tradition but changed it, like Dorothy M. Johnson’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s “Track of the Cat.” I always go back to read those because they have an honesty to them.

BOOKS: What are you reading next?

JOHNSON: I’m trying to get the new Richard Russo, “Chances Are…”, back from my wife. I bought it for her but I wish she’d hurry up and read it.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at