The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson is the first book in a series, that introduces us to Walt Longmire, a sheriff in Absaroka County, Wyoming. The first paragraph grabs you and drags you into Walt’s world of local drunks and small town politics. You’re introduced to a cast of characters that are equally fleshed out, from the woman, Dorothy, who runs the café near the sheriff’s department to Henry Standing Bear, a Cheyanne Indian and Walt’s best friend. You aren’t just reading about Wyoming you’re there; you can see the mountains and smell the fresh air and maybe just that faint hint of animal manure (you are in rural Wyoming).
The book series has the writing and the characters to entice readers who prefer vastly different types of books. My father and I (who up until this point have never read the same book and enjoyed it) have been devouring this series as fast as we can. My father is a fan of westerns and grew up watching The Lone Ranger; this book does have a white law man and Indian friend, just without the 1950’s racist undertones (Tonto being played by a white guy). Calling it 1950’s racism is actually a bit unfair, in the new Lone Ranger movie Tonto is still played by a white guy.
Walt and Henry each bring their own strengths to the story, and while there is some mystic Native American stuff, it’s more focused on Walt’s perception of it. Henry, thank god, is not a magical Indian. Having served in Vietnam, Walt doesn’t have the taste for unnecessary violence and frequently forgets his gun when he takes it off. Even though Walt isn’t a fan of violence, you are never given the impression that he is not a rough and tumble kind of guy. Walt is the kind of man that will always give you the chance to stand down, not because he can’t fight, but because he’s seen the damage violence can cause and would rather not be the cause.
I have always pretty much hated any sort of western and only started to read the series because I saw the first season of the show Longmire, which is based on the books. The books I love are the ones with witty dialogue and consistent characters; this book has both those things in spades. One sentence you’ll be reading some sad, horrible, or otherwise dark discovery and the next one will have you laugh out loud. Henry and Walt have the easy camaraderie of two people who have known each other for decades and their conversations are one of my favorite things in the book, its where most of the great one-liners are.
Who wouldn’t I recommend this book to? My grandmother. I know, I know, “But I thought this book was good for all sorts of readers?” You’re right I did say that and that is true, unless you don’t like women who swear. My grandmother doesn’t even like it when people say damn, not alone when people say fuck and not just once, but multiple times. The woman in question, Deputy Victoria Morretti, is a direct and clever transplant from Philadelphia. She’s one of my favorite characters, I love her for all the reasons my grandmother wouldn’t. Morretti isn’t concerned with bringing culture and class to the wilderness, she was a tough cop in Philadelphia and she’s a tough cop in Absaroka County. She isn’t trying to be one of the guys and won’t take shit from anyone who is foolish enough to give it to her.
Normally I would be wearier of reading a book written by a white man that includes a cast of characters, of a historically marginalized race but Mr. Johnson by all accounts has done his homework. Henry Standing Bear is based on a real life friend of Johnson’s, a Mr. Marcus Red Thunder. Johnson lives in Wyoming and his ranch abuts to both a Crow and a Cheyenne reservation, where he has many friends. I always breathe a sigh of relief when a person who writes about Native Americans has actually met them.
Since this book is a mystery book, I won’t go too far into the plot. The story starts with the discovery of a dead body by a local farmer. The phone call about the body is where I knew this story wasn’t going to be boring, the man who discovered the body asked Walt if while he was on his way over he could grab some beer. Walt is a caregiver, as soon as you enter his county you’re his responsibility. This isn’t in a macho, “I know what the best thing for you way”, it’s the “do you have a place to sleep, if not I have a spare bed” kind of way. Knowing this and small towns, the idea that someone would ask the sheriff to bring them beer isn’t too far off the beaten path
The mystery takes you through the county and introduces you to the area, all its beauty, and the quirks that go with being in the middle of nowhere. This book is an entertaining read while providing insight into the people and the land of Wyoming.
- Sexual assault
Does it pass the Bechdel test?