Walt Longmire has been sheriff of Absaroka county in Wyoming for 24 years. He's coming up to retirement but after losing his wife four years ago his job is all he's got. Truthfully he has yet to come to terms properly with her death, the house they were building together is still uncompleted and a bit of a wreck, he's drinking too much, and his friends and family are worried about him. Walt's dreams of retirement are shattered when the body of Cody Pritchard is found in the mountains. Cody was one of four teenage boys accused of raping a Cheyenne girl. They got off with light sentences and although Walt wonders if the death was an accident it somehow doesn't seem likely. He sets about investigating with the help of his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, a Cheyenne, and his staff who're nothing if not a varied bunch. It seems the weapon used to kill the boy was an old-fashioned Sharpe's rifle and that only a few people would be capable of making such a shot at long range. It had to be murder, so are the other three boys' lives now in danger? Walt has to find a way to protect them while being alive to the sensitivities of the local Native Americans. No easy task. And then another of the boys is found murdered...
It took me several chapters to get into this one and I was probably about halfway through before I realised that I really was enjoying it. By the end, I loved it. Why? Well it was certainly a good mystery, so that helps. I had no idea who had done the deed until close to the end which is always fun. More than that though I found the characters got under my skin. Longmire himself is an excellent main character, flawed, very human, just doing his best in difficult circumstances. His relationship with Henry Standing Bear is wonderfully poignant, full of humour, their exchanges are sometimes hilarious. Henry himself is also a fantastic character, and there are several other Native Americans who are also interesting as well as Vic, Walt's female deputy. I love the way they all try to engineer a date for Walt and the awkward way Walt feels on the date after so many years out of the dating scene. Wonderful.
The other big plus for me with this book was the setting. I had heard of The Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming of course but knew very little about them.
From this book I got an excellent idea of how it is to live in the shadow of these iconic mountains, the beauty, the bleakness, the isolation, the weather. One long scene has Walt having to facilitate a rescue in a snow-storm in the mountains and I'm not exaggerating when I say it's one of the best scenes of that nature I've ever read. Fantastic... both in the description but also in the spiritual aspects the author injects into the story. I'm not always that keen on that kind of thing but the way in which it was handled here was skilful and it worked wonderfully for me. It's a long time since I've read a book that had more of a sense of place than this.
To tell the truth I'm still thinking about this book and its characters and I'm having trouble starting something new. I have book 2 and have ordered 3 and 4 from Amazon but wanted to read something else before I carry on with the series. I shall be going back to Absaroka county very soon though.
I read this book as part of my What's in a Name challenge which is being hosted by Beth Fish Reads. It covers the category of 'something you would find in your kitchen'. It also qualifies very well for my own USA challenge for the state of Wyoming.