With a title like “The Craig Johnson Collection,” you might think I’m referring to a catalog of Western wear that includes distressed Wranglers, sweat-stained Stetsons, and cowpie-crusted Tony Lama boots. But I’m referring to Christmas in Absaroka County, Penguin’s special e-collection of short stories by the Wyoming author who’s become a fan favorite for his Walt Longmire mysteries.
I’m proud to say that we knew Johnson back when he was just an author of fine books, not yet an award-winning, top-selling, phenomenon with a hot TV series (A&E’s Longmire) under his belt. (Come to think of it, there is a Walt Longmire Collection that includes a baseball cap, coffee mug, and bumper sticker.) We at Booklist have reviewed his books well over the years and even found time to talk to him in a Chicago bar, appropriately named The Dark Horse.
In 2008, Johnson started writing an annual short story and emailing it to his fans just before Christmas, no big deal, just for fun. The first one (“A Slick-Tongued Devil“) came as a Word attachment. I asked if we could share them with readers on Likely Stories, and Johnson said sure! “Firebug” followed (this time a PDF), then “Unbalanced,” then . . . to my shame, I just got too busy last year to post last year’s story, “Three Slaps.” But it wasn’t like Johnson needed our help finding an audience by then, anyway.
Johnson does Christmas the way Longmire takes his
coffee: black, without any sweetness and cream.
Christmas in Absaroka County includes a new story, “Ministerial Aid,” plus “Slick-Tongued Devil,” “Toys for Tots” (a retitled “Three Slaps”), “Unbalanced,” and, for the uninitiated, the first chapter of the very first Longmire novel, The Cold Dish. It doesn’t include “Firebug,” so you’ll have to read that one here. (It doesn’t include last year’s non-Christmas e-special, “Divorce Horse,” either.)
“Ministerial Aid,” takes us back to the past, New Year’s Day, 2000, a few months after the death of Walt’s wife, Martha. Walt, hungover and wearing a bathrobe, is running an errand when duty calls and he finds himself talking to an elderly victim of domestic violence. It’s a great reminder of the series’ origins: though recent books have focused more on the sheriff’s strength and good humor, when we first met him, he was an overweight, intoxicated curmudgeon still deeply wounded by his wife’s death. Fans of any series often come to think of the characters as people they know, and Johnson once again does a great job of blending personal history with storytelling, exploring dark emotions with dry humor. Johnson does Christmas the way Longmire takes his coffee: black, without any sweetness and cream.
So if you want the new story, and to read the old ones on your e-reader, you’ll have to pony up $3.99. Seems fair—and a lot easier to read than PDFs.
Update: Read “High Holidays,” Johnson’s latest story, which came in by email on December 25—though it’s not exactly a Christmas story. Enjoy!