The Rambling Mann

Book reviews and occasional other thoughts from writer Richard Mann.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Spirit of St. Louis by Craig Johnson

Spirit of Steamboat

Reviewed by Richard Mann of

AUTHOR: Craig Johnson
ISBN: 978-0-670-01578-8

Damn, but that Craig Johnson can tell a story!

According to the acknowledgments in the front of the book, Johnson sat down to write a short story about a small Christmas miracle involving the folks in his Walt Longmire mystery series.  As you probably know, the books spawned the wildly popular A&E television series, Longmire.  In a matter of days, the story had reached 80 pages and was still going strong, so he and the publishers made it a novella and published it in a small hardcover book.

I am ever so glad they did.

The result was this lovely little book, Spirit of Steamboat.  As a long-standing fan of the Walt Longmire books—one of the true believers who was on board long before the TV people ever heard of Walt—I was a bit disappointed for a couple of reasons when I first received this book.  I’m not a sentimentalist who gets big kick of Christmas stories.  I love the Longmire stories, so it seemed a waste to have such a short little book when a bigger, more involved tale would be so much more satisfying.

Bad thinking, old man.  The book is wonderful.  It starts with a mildly puzzling visit from a young woman who won’t tell Walt who she is.  She wants to see Lucian Connally, the feisty one-legged old timer who was the sheriff before Longmire took over.  Lucian lives in the local rest home these days.  As they visit, Walt and Lucian recall an eventful night in a towering blizzard more than twenty years earlier.  The book flashes back to tell the story of that memorable night.

In a horrific Christmas blizzard, there has been a car accident.  All die but one young girl, who is so badly injured that only the advanced surgeons and equipment in Denver can save her, but only if they can treat her in the next few hours.  The roads are closed and the weather is so severe that even medical helicopters are grounded.

In an unlikely but thrilling series of events, Lucian—in a drunken near-stupor—agrees to fly the girl to Denver through the roaring storm in a derelict old Mitchell B25 with a painting of Wyoming’s beloved bucking bronco logo on the side.  The horse in the picture was named Steamboat, and so is the aircraft.

The adventure of getting the old crate ready to fly and then trying to manhandle it through the once-in-a-hundred-years storm is absolutely terrifying and exhilarating.  Craig Johnson will keep you on the edge of your seat the whole way through the book, telling the story as no one else can.  I dare you to try to put it down before you finish it.  This is a definite read-it-in-one-sitting experience.

I would love to tell you all about my Air Force connections as a veteran and son of a career USAF bombardier.  I’d love to tell you about my Wyoming roots and experiences being stranded out in the windswept Wyoming high country where every snowstorm is a blizzard.  But not many of you would care all that much to hear it, so I will restrain myself.

Suffice it to say that even without an Air Force background and Wyoming roots, you will love this rip-roaring, thrill-a-minute experience.  You too may be breathing hard from exertion and tension while you read.  There may be tears involved.  Go read this book; don’t wait for Christmas.  Do it now.


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