By Rhonna Hargett, Adult Services Manager
Several years ago, I randomly picked up The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson and I was never able to look back. Ever since, I’ve waited anxiously for each installment in this brilliant mystery series. Johnson weaves the tales of Walt Longmire, an overweight, middle-aged, widower sheriff with a degree in literature, who takes better care of the county than he does of himself. Along with gripping plots, the Longmire series offers up unforgettable characters, journeys into the mind and spirit, and descriptions of Wyoming that make you feel the sun on your face and the biting wind at your back.
You’ve probably heard of Longmire from the series that was on A&E and then Netflix. I have enjoyed seeing my favorite characters come to life and was thrilled to see recently that season 5 is coming in September, but I must say that the books are an entirely different achievement. The TV show floats along the surface of the thought processes and mysticism that an author can convey so well in a book.
Walt is the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, a fictional county at the base of the Bighorn Mountains bordering the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Walt spends many hours on the road and the trail throughout the series, covering the large area of the county or venturing further for an investigation, so we become intimately familiar with the varying landscape in all types of weather. Wyoming becomes a character in the series as he explores mountains and canyons and rides across the plains or travels long stretches of highway without another human in sight.
The plots of the novels are gripping, but the true reason that I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book as soon as possible is Johnson’s ability to make characters come alive. Walt is a good man, but has faults and weaknesses that make life challenging, not to mention the underlying grief that constantly accompanies him. His practical common sense is balanced by his love of literature and respect for the traditions of the local Native Americans. He is kept above the surface by his lifelong friend, Henry Standing Bear. Henry owns a bar, has bad taste in women, and a steadfast strength. The interactions of the two friends provide subtle, dry humor throughout the books, balancing the difficulties of the issues they face. The deputies in the sheriff’s department consist of Vic Moretti, a smart-mouthed woman who can’t let go of her East Coast sensibilities; Saizarbitoria, a family man; Ferg who is dependable but would rather be fishing; and Turk, an unpleasant but competent officer. Ruby, the dispatcher, keeps everything running smoothly with her smoker’s rasp and superior nagging abilities. To relax, Walt plays chess with the former sheriff, Lucian Connally, who is regularly threatened with removal from his nursing home for various alcohol and weaponry infractions. Walt’s daughter Cady, a lawyer back east, makes regular appearances in an attempt to remind Walt that he is more than a sheriff. Each of them brings humor and heart to the series, while they all deal with demons from the past.
In The Cold Dish, which starts the series off, Longmire is called in to investigate the death of Cody Pritchard. Walt was familiar with the young man who, along with 3 friends, had been given a suspended sentence for the rape of a developmentally disabled Cheyenne girl. The other boys involved in the case are concerned that someone is seeking vengeance. Walt works to overcome his disgust with the murder victim in a situation where the meaning of justice is unclear. Called “a thoughtful page-turner, wry and sober in good measure,” by BookList, The Cold Dish doesn’t fit easily into any genre but would appeal to a wide range of readers.