So what’s a nice South Philly girl doing way out in Wyoming?
As fans of the Netflix TV series “Longmire” and the Longmire crime novels know, the South Philadelphia character Victoria “Vic’ Moretti was created by Craig Johnson. She’s tough, resourceful, somewhat profane, and loyal to her friends. Sounds like a lot of Philly women I know.
Crime novelist Johnson, who lives in a small town in rural Wyoming, lived in Philadelphia for a time and attended Temple University. He met his future wife, Judy, at Temple.
In his 2007 Longmire novel, “Kindness Goes Unpunished,” Walt Longmire, the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, travels to Philadelphia, accompanied by his huge and fearsome Cheyenne friend Henry Standing Bear, to visit his daughter. Longmire discovers that Cady, a Philadelphia lawyer, was brutally attacked on the steps of the Franklin Institute.
Longmire, Henry Standing Bear, and Vic Moretti and her family of Philly cops all become involved with deadly political intrigue and interconnected crimes in the City of Brotherly Love.
I reached out to Johnson and asked him about his Philadelphia connections. I also asked about his 17th Walt Longmire novel, “Daughter of the Morning Sun,” (Viking), which I recently read and enjoyed.
“I wanted to write a book about the plight of murdered and missing indigenous women, but as a novelist I knew I had to tell a story, and I didn’t want it to be another manhunt-in-the-snow novel. I knew I had to come up with a different kind of idea that would take Walt Longmire somewhere he’d never been before, and on a bus full of teenaged girl basketball players seemed to be about the most dangerous place I could put him,” Johnson said. “There is a young phenom, Jaya Long, who’s been receiving death threats, and the tribal police chief invites Walt up to the Cheyenne Reservation, knowing his participation in the investigation might heighten the awareness of the situation. The fact that Jaya’s older sister Jeanie went missing a year before after receiving the same kinds of threats isn’t lost on the sheriff, and he figures there must be a connection.”
Johnson describes Longmire in one word, decent.
“I know it’s not a word that’s in vogue right now but remember when our parents would tell us to be decent human beings? That’s the way I look at Walt, or to put it another way, if you slide off the road in the middle of the night in a Wyoming blizzard and a pair of headlights appear behind you? That’s the guy you want in that truck.”
Is Longmire in any way autobiographical?
“My wife has the best remark about that, “Walt Longmire is who Craig would like to be in 10 years – he’s just off to an incredibly slow start.”
I told Johnson that I love his character, Vic Moretti. I asked him what a former Philadelphia detective was doing in Wyoming.
“I knew when I was writing the first book in the Longmire series, ‘The Cold Dish,’ that I needed an outsider, somebody who wasn’t born, hadn’t grown up and lived in Wyoming – someone to give the readers an in to a high context environ,” Johnson explained. “I thought the contrast of a character from a big city back east and a rural sheriff would be interesting. I suppose I could’ve gone with the more predictable choice of New York, but I’ve always loved Philadelphia.”
Who inspired you to create this character?
“My wife, whom I met while in graduate school there – and she’s some kind of fierce.”
What do you think of Philadelphia?
“There’s so much, but there’s a ferocity that I love above everything else, a bold-faced honesty; I tried to make Vic Moretti the living embodiment of Philadelphia,” Johnson replied. “When I visit, I always hit McGillin’s Olde Ale House, George’s Sandwiches on South 9th Street and grab a pie at Bella Italia in Ardmore out where my daughters and granddaughter live. I try to catch a Phillies game, grab a Yuengling and a cheesesteak. Trust me, after living away from Philadelphia for 20 years, there are no bad cheesesteaks.”
Did you meet with any Philly cops while you visited the city?
“Oh yeah, and they were great. I remember asking a detective why a particular road in Fairmont Park was called Forbidden Drive and he gave me a look right out of Vic Moretti’s are-you-a-village-idiot manual. ‘Because you’re forbidden to drive on it…’”
Do you plan to have Walt Longmire come back to Philadelphia in a future novel?
“You never know. There were a lot of interesting characters that I added to the ensemble there and Vic’s history is always up for grabs,” Johnson said.
Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week. He can be contacted via pauldavisoncrime.com.