‘The Cold Dish,’ by Craig Johnson

Like many people, I recently watched Season Four of the “Longmire” TV series, broadcast first on the A&E Network, and now produced by Netflix. The series, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a crime series centering on a laconic modern day Wyoming sheriff. Australian actor Robert Taylor (not to be confused with the American actor Robert Taylor, who was unavailable for the role due to being dead) plays Sheriff Walt Longmire, and the supporting cast includes Lou Diamond Philipps as his Indian friend Henry Standing Bear and Katee Sackhoff as Deputy Vic Moretti. The series is well done and scenic (though shot in New Mexico instead of Wyoming, which has to lose something in translation), and it has a large and faithful following (A&E reportedly dropped it because it the viewers were too old. Right up my alley).

So I thought I’d check out the first of the original Longmire novels, by Craig Johnson. It’s called The Cold Dish (points if you know the Cervantes reference), and introduces the characters (or some of them; several are unrecognizable). The first thing to strike the reader is the substantial differences between the TV series and the books. The Longmire of the series is a sort of Gary Cooper character, slow talking and depressed over the death of his much-loved wife. The Longmire of the books is older, fatter, and more easygoing. He’s lonely, but he admits he never loved his late wife all that much, nor she him. He’s inclined to be a joker.

In this book he investigates a series of sniper murders. All the victims are young white men who got off easily a couple years before after their conviction for the rape of a mentally challenged Cheyenne girl. The girl is a niece of Henry’s (this makes Henry a suspect, which is awkward). The murder weapon appears to be a relic of the Old West, an antique Sharps rifle. It all works out pretty tragically.

The book was very well written, and I enjoyed it. I had some trouble with the treatment of Native American spirituality; it’s presented as pretty obviously true and effective. But taken on its own terms, The Cold Dish is a good book.

Cautions for the usual things.

4 thoughts on “‘The Cold Dish,’ by Craig Johnson”

  1. Native earth religion is one of the reasons I have drifted away from reading so much Louis L’Amour. As he got older his later books seemed to always get a plug in for spirit guides or the old people or some such thing as if he were seeking to validate it. I much prefer the way you handle the old Norse gods by presenting them as demons fighting against faith. The eye of Odin in West Oversea was brilliant, accurately predicting the future, but limiting the vision to manipulate its follower to make bad decisions.

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