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At your library: travel west

MARY TUTTLE
special to the daily

If you’re planning to take a road trip through the Rocky Mountains this summer, you might benefit from consulting maps and guidebooks. To experience an intimate sense of time, place, and atmosphere, however, consider bringing along a few of the many excellent novels that take place in the West’s High Country.

Craig Johnson’s “Junkyard Dogs,” his sixth novel featuring Walt Longmire, Wyoming Sheriff of Absaroka County, centers around a familiar theme in today’s West: developers versus private property/business owners. In this case the private business is a junkyard and garage owned by the quirky Stewart family, consisting of the patriarch Geo, a feisty old junkman who seemingly has nine lives, his grandson Duane who smells like marijuana, and Duane’s new wife, whose most artful form of communication is shrugging.

The inevitable conflict occurs when the owners of a multi-million dollar development want the Stewart junkyard moved to make room for ranchettes. Walt Longmire is drawn into the fray, which will eventually involve two dead bodies, a very unlikely romance, and the search for the owner of a severed thumb. Johnson has created a group of characters as colorful as the scenery they occupy. The dialogue is sharp and often laugh-out-loud funny between Walt and his sidekicks.

“Nowhere to Run” is C.J. Box’s 10th novel featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. Joe is looking forward to returning to his home and family near the Bighorn Mountains after a year in exile in the Sierra Madre Mountains. On what should have been his last patrol before his departure for home, he stops to do the seemingly routine job of issuing a citation to a large man he finds fishing in a high mountain lake without a permit. He follows the man to his camp, where the game warden meets his equally large twin brother. Pickett becomes increasingly wary of these two sinister characters, appropriately introduced as Caleb and Camish Grim. Pickett feels a strong urge to turn and ride away from the Brothers Grim while he can, but he doesn’t do it soon enough. What follows is a tension-filled pursuit, with Pickett realizing the brothers’ skills far exceed his own, putting his life in grave danger. Fishing without a license is the very least of these men’s crimes.

On the lighter side, if you’re traveling to Idaho, you might want to bring Idaho native and humorist Patrick F. McManus (“Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink!” and “Never Sniff a Gift Fish”) along for the ride. In “The Double Jack Murders,” the third novel of his Blight County Sheriff Bo Tully mystery series, McManus has created a charming collection of oddball characters to assist the sheriff in a murder investigation. “Pap” Tully, Bo’s father, was himself once the county sheriff, although apparently his methods of law enforcement ran along the lines of shoot now, ask questions later. Another of Tully’s assistants is “Indian Dave,” whose claims to Native American ancestry are dubious at best, but who is sticking to his story in hopes of turning his restaurant, Dave’s House of Fry, into a casino. Bo Tully is a bit of an oddity, being a tough lawman and a talented and increasingly successful watercolor artist.

In this newest novel, Tully is being stalked by Lucas Kincaid, an escaped convict Tully had put in prison. Tully and crew head for the High Country in order to draw Kincaid into a trap. Narrated with McManus’ trademark humor, the character’s antics make this one of the weirdest and funniest mysteries ever.

These are just three examples out of a vast number of works by authors who write about law and order in today’s West, all of which are available at the Summit County Libraries. Many of these titles are also available on CD and downloadable audio, so you can listen to them to keep you awake on some of those long, lonely stretches of highway. So whether you’re traveling by car, horse, or armchair, consider taking along these authors whose intimate knowledge of and obvious love for their particular places in the West will take you to places you might not find in the guidebooks. Happy trails!


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