30 November 2009

Craig who?

Somewhere recently I came across the name of Craig Johnson [left] and a list of the books he's written. I don't remember where it was, but I wrote down the list and took it with me to the Northfield library when I was last there.

Sure enough, one of his books was in the catalog, Death Without Company.

What had caught my attention initially was that Johnson comes from northern Wyoming. The author bio on the back flap says he lives in "Ucross, Wyoming, population twenty-five." (Sure enough, if you look for Ucross on Google Earth, you'll see a highway intersection with a few houses. And just north of the intersection is The Ranch at Ucross, a dude ranch and meeting center (for the private corporate getaway far from distractions). Ucross is a few dozen miles northeast of Cody.

What I wondered was what kind of writers club they have in northern Wyoming or what's in the water there. Johnson lives there and writes about it. So do C. J. Box and Margaret Coel. And then there's Diane Smith, a Montanan whose books, Letters from Yellowstone and Pictures from an Expedition, are historical fiction about the big park just west of where the other books are set. Seems like a high density of writers for such a sparsely populated area.

Back to Death Without Company. I liked it, but i wasn't carried away by it. But that might have been my fault. I started the book in widely separated tiny bits of time. So, the beginning and the introduction of characters was hit or miss for me. I had trouble throughout the rest of the book keeping track of who was who and how they were connected. And there were quite a few whos to keep track of.

I also had trouble tracking the scenes in the story line. Half a dozen times I felt like I'd missed a transition, and had to go back and reread a section. I never found a missed transition, and then I had to cogitate and imagine what had happened between scene A and scene B. Usually I could make up a reasonable explanation, but I'd really rather have an author tell me what he "saw" happening between a climax and the resumption of the story.

The other problem I had was imagining the scenes. Much of the story takes places during snow storms, but I kept picturing night time. Then one of Johnson's characters would do something that clearly had to be done in daylight and I'd have to re-imagine what was going on. It might have been my inattention, but I think more description would have helped.

One final bit: this story gets a couple Heart of Gold medals for improbabilities. Too many wounded heros, too many important coincidences, too much serendipity.

I won't judge Johnson's other books by this one, and I will search out another. This was good enough to encourage me to read another. Even my old favorite Tony Hillerman didn't write a superb novel every time he tried.

Johnson has written half a dozen mysteries in the past decade. Have you read any of them? What did you think? Write and tell this little bit of the world.

See also:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks like you still haven't read the best one, which is the first: "The Cold Dish." I agree that he's uneven, but I will always read him anyway in case he reaches that peak again. I know it's unlikely: there's so much pressure on these guys to publish and often a book a year is just too much.
-- Carol