Review: The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire 01) by Craig Johnson


Walt (Walter) Longmire is the Sheriff in Durant,  Absaroka county, Wyoming – a scenic little town beneath the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains. Despite the profession and the scenery his existence can be hardly called exciting. He is getting old. He’s marking days until his retirement, occasionally watching sunsets and sunrises. He is mourning the premature loss of his wife. He drinks himself to sleep each night in front of an ancient TV set, with always the same channel on, broadcasting just soporific static. What’s more, Walt lives almost like a squatter in a half built wooden cabin he doesn’t intend to finish. What for? His only daughter have chosen a big city and a career of a lawyer anyway.

The boring routine ends when one day some local shepherds find the body of young Cody Pritchard, seemingly shot from close distance by an antique rifle. The murder stirs the whole community and now Walt has to shake off the doom and gloom and find the killer. All of a sudden the time which had flown slowly so far is not on his side. Cody Pritchard was one of four boys who gang-raped in a really cruel way a young Cheyenne girl with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Then they got off with barely more than a slap on their wrists.  Small wonder most of the population of the county can be firmly placed in the suspect frame, including Walt’s best friend, a Native American called Henry Standing Bear who happens to be also a relative of the girl. Who murdered the young rapist?  Is it really a case of  belated revenge, ‘a dish that is best served cold’? Will there be other victims?

What I liked:

Firstly, let me tell you that I adore  books which start with a quote from one of my favourite novels,  Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de La Clos, and The Cold Dish is one of them. Yes, I can be biased like that – one quote and I am almost on my knees, drooling. Of course the good impression such a quote creates can be swiftly effaced if it is not followed by a good story. I am happy to say the story told by Walt Longmire was good – perhaps not utterly brilliant but good nevertheless. Still let me focus on the main character and the first person narrator because he clearly deserves a place of honour.

The sheriff is a fifty-something guy, a Vietnam vet, who’s seen plenty of bad things done for the best of reasons and learned to live with it. He prefers older guns with big recoil, he doesn’t give effusive praise and feels uncomfortable receiving it, his conversations too often consist of a string of monosyllabic words, he wins not because of his fastness but endurance. His sense of humour can be really dry, sometimes even caustic. He is three-dimensional, he feels real, he is easy to sympathize with although sometimes, because of his inertia, you feel like slapping him hard or saying some harsh words. Well, it is not easy to move somebody like Walt or like his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, the proud owner of The Red Pony, a Northern Cheyenne, an “understated prophet,” a reader of Steinbeck, and another Vietnam vet.

By the way, detective Vic Moretti, my other favourite secondary character, was a great counterpoint to the slightly oldie-worldie friendship between Walt and the Bear, adding some sexual tension and foul language.

Now the story. We go from something which seems to be just a sleepy little death by misadventure among sheep droppings to a multiple homicide involving fake eagle feathers and an authentic Sharp’s Rifle–the kind that the Northern Cheyenne and their allies used to defeat Custer and the Seventh not too far from the book’s setting. It is a joyful ride, although it starts slowly. Sometimes you get a distinct feeling that  the actual murder investigation takes second place to the building up an interesting setting and a good cast for the long run of the series. Walking and talking? Yes, plenty of it but somehow it was for me more palatable than the same plot meandering of The Cuckoo’s Calling, the latest J.K. Rowilng adult whodunit penned by her under the alias of Robert Galbraith.  Oh well…I think in my books I’ve always liked Native Americans and cowboys more than contemporary London socialites.

Finally let me add that the natural and sometimes treacherous beauty of the region mixed with both real and fictional local history, Cheyenne culture and the inner dynamics of a sleepy backwater town created a very palatable background for  a crime novel.

What I didn’t like:

I admit the first part of the book was almost too slow. I was able to wade through it mainly because I liked Walt and his style of narration from the scene one.

There was also another problem: I don’t know how, I don’t know why but I managed to guess the identity of the murderer very early on. No, it didn’t make the novel less enjoyable but, after reaching the final moments, I felt a bit disappointed. It was too easy despite all these red herrings.

Final verdict:

I read that one because of a review written by Tasha/Heidenkind/ on her blog (definitely a blog worth your visit)  and I don’t think I’ve been this enthusiastic about a new author since discovering Dick Francis. Of course it wasn’t a perfect novel, certainly not a Nobel or Booker Prize material, it won’t change my outlook on life or any major issues. It’s just that I discovered something that fits my sense of humour, makes me smile despite myself, the equivalent of a literary joyride with a healthy dose of adrenaline rush and a lot of snarky humor. Most of all it’s about the real-life characters, oddballs and loners with a strong sense of belonging to a small community, cherishing the life as it is, with all its good and bad sides. I am really looking forward to continuing this series.

Big Horn Mountains

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7 Responses to Review: The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire 01) by Craig Johnson

  1. blodeueddb says:

    can I say meh again? Just like you say sugar? 😉

  2. Nathan says:

    Hmm. May have to try it..

  3. heidenkind says:

    I knew you would like the Les Liaisons Dangereuses quote. 🙂 I agree that the slow parts in this one are easier to take than in The Cuckoo’s Calling. I think part of it is because the ending is a lot stronger, and part of it is because the book as a whole feels more genuine to the writer, if that makes sense. Anyway, the books keep getting better. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Craig Johnson Longmire Series. | I am an Author, I Must Auth

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