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Book Review: A dark secret exposed about a World War II internment camp in ‘First Frost’

Walt Longmire and his deputy are poking around in his basement when she spots a relic of his youth, a hundred-pound Bob Simmons-model surfboard.

“You’re too big to surf,” she says.

“I didn’t used to be,” he says.

She notices that the front of the board is heavily dented.

“Tell me about that,” she says.

It’s a long story, he replies. In fact, it’s long enough to form the heart of “First Frost,” Craig Johnson’s 20th crime novel featuring Longmire, the sheriff of fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming.

Flash back to the summer of 1964. Walt and his pal Henry Standing Bear, whose football careers at the University of Southern California recently came to an end, have enlisted in the military with the expectation that they will be sent to Vietnam. Their plan is to drive cross country to their assigned training facilities, but they have barely made it to Arizona when Walt’s truck runs off the road, stranding them in the small desert town of Bone Valley.

The town, they soon find, is as unwelcoming as its name. Get out as soon as you can, they are repeatedly told. Sometimes it’s a warning, sometimes a threat. Clearly something is wrong here, and Walt, already demonstrating the courage and persistence of a future sheriff, can’t let go of the mystery.

Meanwhile, back in the present, Longmire is under investigation for a fatal shooting recounted in “The Longmire Defense,” last year’s installment of the series. The victim was a member of a wealthy and politically powerful family, which is now out for vengeance.

The author moves smoothly between the two time periods, keeping both stories moving at a crisp pace. The old story is the more suspenseful one involving, among other things, murderous drug smugglers, a former judge who runs Bone Valley like a dictator, and a dark secret about the incarceration camps of Japanese Americans during World War II that had once operated nearby.

Johnson’s vivid, tightly written novel may remind readers of “Bad Day at Black Rock,” a 1955 film in which an Army veteran played by Spencer Tracy arrives in a western town to deliver a medal and discovers the populace is harboring a dark secret.

Readers new to the series won’t have difficulty following the action, and longtime Longmire fans are likely to appreciate how the author fleshes out the main character’s backstory.

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”

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AP book reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/book-reviews

By BRUCE DESILVA
Associated Press

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