October 18th, 2016

Headstone

Halloween Countdown Day 18: The Highwayman by Craig Johnson

Here's a great list from Culturess: "Scary Women: 13 Female Horror Writers You Should Read."

Today I'd like to share another book recommendation. I fell in love with author Craig Johnson's Longmire stories through the outstanding television series Longmire, and then (with the encouragement of ankh_hpl) I followed those stories back to their inspiration, the award-winning Longmire series of novels. They are part contemporary Westerns, part mysteries, part police procedurals, and part other genres, depending on the specific book. Due to the long character and plot arcs, I usually recommend that readers encounter the novels in their published order.

This year, however, we received a special treat: a stand-alone Gothic ghost story. No prior knowledge of the Longmire series is necessary. The Highwayman is a haunting, atmospheric little novella that is made for the Halloween season.

Here's the premise: when Wyoming Highway Patrolman Rosey Wayman is transferred to the Wind River Canyon territory, she begins receiving repeated radio calls from her colleague Bobby Womack, each at the same time in the dead of night, reporting an officer needing assistance. But how exactly can she assist him, when Bobby died decades earlier? Or is he calling Rosey to say that she is the one in need of help? This tale is about legend and history and memory, the stories we tell ourselves and the truths that haunt us.



I'll leave you with a short excerpt. In this scene, Sheriff Walt Longmire has asked a retired state trooper if he has heard any unusual stories about his fellow trooper, the late Bobby Womack.

"Then there was this hitchhiker, hippie kid out of Benicia, California, who was heading north and got picked up by a trooper in the canyon really early one morning and said he gave him a ride all the way up to Canyon Hills Road and dropped him off. The kid wanted to buy him a meal to thank him, but the trooper said there was something he had to take care of but if the kid wanted to buy him lunch, he knew a place and would meet him at the end of the road in about an hour."

"So?"

"The kid does what the trooper tells him to do and goes out to the end of Canyon Hills."

"And?"

"There's nothing out there but Monument Hill Cemetery."

I didn't say anything.

"Where Bobby is buried."

I rested the Red Ryder in my lap for lack of targets. "You ever have anything strange happen to you?"

He thought about it for a while... "Back in 2000, WYDOT was painting the center strips, and we had to ride along in front of them, straddling the line so some idiot didn't come around a corner and run into their trucks. Well, I'm pulling the duty, and we stop at the Tipi Camp about halfway for lunch, and one of the crew comes up and asks me to say something to the trooper who's running behind us. According to this guy, he's got his windows down and has been playing the same song over and over and would I please do something about it."

I sipped my beer. "And?"

"Well, I tell this idiot that there isn't any other trooper, that I'm the only one on duty in the canyon, but he keeps complaining, so we walk back there and of course there's no patrol car. Now, normally I would've just let it drop, but I was curious, so I asked him what song it was."

"Yep?"

"Said it was that old Rolling Stones tune 'It's All Over Now,' and that he must've heard it about forty-seven times."

"So?"

"You know who wrote that song?"

"Nope."

"Bobby's namesake -- Bobby Womack."