Craig Johnson: Next to Last Stand

While waiting for Craig Johnson’s new Longmire novel, Daughter of the Morning Star (available Sept. 21), I couldn’t resist re-reading last year’s novel, Next to Last Stand.

What do a million in cash and a small study piece of Cassily Adams’s famous painting Custer’s Last Fight have in common? Both are found in the footlocker of veteran Charley Lee Stillwater after he dies of an apparent heart attack at the Wyoming Home for Soldiers and Sailors. Did Charlie have a connection to the famous painting which burned in 1946?

It’s a pleasure to see Walt working with Vic, Ruby, and Henry again as he tries to answer these questions. After the darkness of Walt’s adventure in Mexico, being back in Durant and on the rez is a breath of fresh Wyoming air.

Along the way, in what Johnson calls “Walt’s first art heist novel,” we learn a lot about the painting at the center of the mystery, Cassily Adams’s famous Custer’s Last Fight. Although historically inaccurate, it’s probably the most viewed painting in the United States, thanks to Anheuser-Busch. The company owned the original painting and reproduced it by the millions (with their logo on the bottom), sending it to bars and servicemen everywhere. The original ended up at Custer’s 7th Cavalry headquarters in Fort Bliss, Texas where it burned in 1946. (Or did it?)

One of my favorite scenes is Walt, Vic, and Henry having movie night at the Red Pony, critiquing Custer movies. Vic, an Easterner, knows nothing about Little Big Horn, quickly find herself trapped between two versions of history, the white man’s (as told by Walt) and the Indians’ (as told by Henry). If you know these characters, you know how hilarious this discussion is. Even if you’ve never read any of the novels, you can still understand and enjoy this book – and you’ll probably want to read all the others.

New secondary characters that I really liked are the wheelchair brigade of four veterans, representing various branches of military services, who spend their days sitting in front of the Home for Soldiers and Sailors waving at passing traffic. Because they’re Charlie Stillwater’s friends, they are anxious to help Walt find out if the painting exists. Are they reliable? Walt can’t be sure because of their insistence on the involvement of Russian spies, which makes Walt doubt their perception.

I highly recommend this engaging and entertaining entry of the Longmire series. Be warned: you won’t want to put it down!


Cathy Akers-Jordan is a writing instructor at the University of Michigan-Flint where she teaches composition, business communications, and technical writing. She also works with independent study students who are writing fantasy and science-fiction. Her current works-in-progress are crime fiction.