I read the first Longmire novel,The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson, and reviewed it a while back. I wasn’t overwhelmed, partly because outdoorsy mysteries aren’t my favorite fare, and (probably) partly because it was so different from the TV series. But I’m borrowing more books from the library these days, and I figured I’d take a chance on another volume. This one is An Obvious Fact, a much more recent entry in the series. And it was pretty good.
In An Obvious Fact (the title is a reference to Sherlock Holmes, and there are Holmes references all through it), Sheriff Walt Longmire and his friend Henry Standing Bear are off to Sturgis, South Dakota and environs for the annual biker rally. Henry is a biker, and has been going back every year since his youth, trying to break a record he set in a dirt bike hill climbing competition.
It’s meant to be a vacation, but they get drawn into the investigation of an accident that sent a young biker to the hospital. Police suspect that the young man was smuggling drugs, but no traces of drugs have been found. The situation is aggravated by the fact that they run into the biker’s mother, who was once Henry’s lover. And – just possibly – her son might be Henry’s. Walt’s suspicions – along with those of his undersheriff “Vic” Moretti, who also shows up – turn toward a reclusive local tycoon who lives in a fortified compound.
It takes some adjustment to get used to the original literary version of this series. Walt is fatter and less handsome than the actor on TV, and also funnier. He does not suffer from existential angst. In fact these books are quite lighthearted, until they get to the violence part (and even some of that is rendered comical by Vic’s gung-ho aggressiveness). The characters are very well drawn, making one wonder why the TV writers felt it necessary to alter them. I enjoyed An Obvious Fact, and recommend it with only the usual cautions.
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 calledThe 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.