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April 29, 2008

Crime Fiction Week: Craig Johnson

Posted by carol
Today we venture into new territory with mystery scribe and guest blogger Craig Johnson, who has crafted a humorous story about a book club on the range. "It's fiction," says Craig, "but very well could have happened in my neighborhood. I live in UCross Wyoming, pop. 25."

Craig is the author of four books in Viking/Penguin's Walt Longmire mystery series about a straight-shooting Wyoming sheriff:
The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished and the forthcoming Another Man's Moccasins (on sale May 29).

The Tractor was Better than the Movie

The first meeting of the Bighorn Mountain/Powder River Book Club didn't start very well. The first selection made by the nominating committee, Maintenance and Care of the Ford 8N Tractor: circa 1948, wasn't being as well-received as I'd hoped.

"I didn't like the ending."

I glanced at one of my fellow ranchers in the circle of folding chairs and asked, "What'd you not like about it, Mike?"

He thought about spitting a stream of tobacco juice onto the hardwood floor of the branch library but swallowed instead. "I thought it kinda left ya hangin'."

"In what way?"

He thought. "Everybody knows the number one problem with the 8N is the way it tends to rollover and pull a Merle."

A Merle is the historic, if insensitive, reference to famed bluegrass musician Doc Watson's son, who perished in just such an action with his own vintage tractor. "Yep, but do you think that's the real point the author is trying to make?"

Mike nodded but had his mouth full so another rancher, Bob Belus, from out on Jim Creek Hill joined in. "Yer dern right it is. We're dealing with big issues here, life, death and a periodic oil change --- and they're all intertwined." He nodded wisely, and the other cowboys bobbed their heads in unison, some going so far as to pull a Will.

A Will is the ubiquitous pushing back of your hat and smiling with sage-like, yet boyishly charming understanding of complex issues like famed humorist, Will Rogers. "Well, I can see your point but what about the pacing and the characters?"

Tom Koltiska, who is from Cat Creek, felt obliged to weigh in and thumbed the worn, red cover of the now out-of-print manual. "They spent way too much time on the hydraulic system, it's just a simple three-point deal and I don't see any reason why..."

Bob wasn't quite through, though, and interrupted. "I ran one of those three bottom plows on an 8N once, and you gotta make sure the frame/beam is straight or else it won't plow the same way in both directions. You have to make sure that all the plow shares set flat on the ground."

I thought I'd better try and get a hold of the book club meeting before we spun completely out of control and pulled a... Well, you get my meaning. "Do you think there was a kind of symbolic quality to the hydraulic system, in a metaphorical sense?"

The group looked at me, Mike once again their speaker. "No. Any damn fool knows that if you were looking for an intrinsic, metaphoric symbol for the 8N tractor or an existential critique of the human condition it'd be the Marvel-Schebler gravity-fed, down-draft carburetor."

They all nodded in agreement.

In way of apologia I did a Will. They were, of course, correct.

---Craig Johnson