Monday, August 25, 2014

First Tastes: Jen Forbus looks at Walt Longmire

Crime Watch is currently undergoing a renovation and upgrade, and as part of that ongoing process, last month I debuted "First Tastes", a new series which will regularly take a look at novels where some terrific authors first introduced their series protagonist. One of the many things that makes crime fiction great is the myriad of fascinating characters in the genre, and the way in which we, as readers, can follow characters we love and loathe over a series of tales, rather than just one-off stories.

This will be a series with plenty of guest bloggers, and today I have the pleasure to introduce Jen Forbus, creator of the fantastic Jen's Book Thoughts, one of the very best crime fiction blogs around. Today, Jen takes a look at the first appearance of Craig Johnson's popular character Walt Longmire, a small-town sheriff with a complicated past, in THE COLD DISH. As Jen notes, this character has become even more widely known thanks to a popular A&E television adaptation, Longmire, which premiered in mid 2012, and stars Australian actor Robert Taylor as the titular sheriff of Wyoming's fictional Absaroka County. The third series just finished airing in the United States earlier this month.

Walt Longmire in THE COLD DISH

By Jen Forbus

To say that Walt Longmire has been making a splash lately is a bit of an understatement. The hit A&E television series has made his a household name. But Walt Longmire became revered in my home years ago when he made his debut in Craig Johnson’s novel, THE COLD DISH.

Walt is a highly complex character. He’s the sheriff of the least populated county in the least populated state in America. A former college football player and Vietnam veteran—he was a Marine MP—he lost his wife to cancer and his daughter is a successful attorney on the other side of the country. All of these life experiences have sketched out the man readers meet in THE COLD DISH. He’s introspective and guarded, as well as intelligent and strong—even if he isn’t aware of his own strength just yet.

Walt’s best friend is a member of the Cheyenne tribe; his understanding and respect for the culture is beyond the average Caucasian. This is evident through the series, but especially so in THE COLD DISH as Walt displays a significant level of reverence for a rare Sharps buffalo rifle. The high regard is not for the rifle as a machine but for the spirit it embodies and the history it represents.

While Craig Johnson continues to explore the character of Walt and flush out his many dimensions, THE COLD DISH  was originally meant to be a standalone novel, so readers get a strong sense of who he is and what he stands for in this series debut.

As a member of the law enforcement community, Walt relies little on technology. He doesn’t have access to it in Absaroka County, and sending evidence out would entail a long wait and a high cost—he struggles to find the funds just to keep his deputies paid. So Walt relies more on his smarts and his intuition. This is also highlighted by Walt’s lack of a cell phone and his staff’s refusal to let him near a computer. He gets his messages from his secretary in the form of post-it notes. Walt’s very much an old-school kind of guy.

Walt is also genuine. He cares about people, especially his people in Absaroka County. He is able to see beyond the superficial exterior in order to appreciate the true beauty. A case that haunts Walt and plays a major role in THE COLD DISH deals with a young Cheyenne girl who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome. Teen boys who couldn't (and wouldn't) see beyond the superficial exterior raped her. Walt sees beyond the FAS. And even though he has little use for the teens that harmed her, he still works as hard as he would for anyone else when their lives are in danger.

Another example of this is Walt’s care for a drunk in his jail. When his deputy severely beats the man, Walt makes sure it’s abundantly clear that it will not ever be tolerated on his patch.

And finally, one of the most important people Walt understands is his undersheriff Vic Moretti. Their relationship will evolve throughout the series, but in THE COLD DISH Vic is struggling with a bad marriage, she’s unhappy out of the big city, and she’s doing her best to carve an identity for herself. Walt sees past her hard, macho, foul-mouthed shell and is sensitive to her struggles.

For me, an added bonus is Walt’s humor. Of course, that’s Johnson’s humor coming through, but despite Walt’s own personal struggles he seems to understand the value of laughter and light-heartedness.

Walt constantly ponders how much longer he’ll remain sheriff. He’s already spent almost a quarter of a century in the role. But he’s going to ask the voters to give him at least one more term in office (in THE COLD DISH). And his campaign signs read “Honesty and Integrity.” I’d add compassion and say that sums up Walt Longmire. And in the United States I know many people have lost a lot of confidence in our elected officials. Maybe that’s why we love Walt so much. He’s the kind of man we want to see in our own leaders.


Jen Forbus is one of the most renowned crime fiction bloggers in the United States, the creator of the popular Jen's Book Thoughts, and an avid reader and supporter of quality crime fiction. She describes herself as "a daughter, sister, aunt, animal-loving homeowner, book-reading liberal, Arnold Palmer-drinking Ohioan; a lover of gadgets and puzzles of discovering and creating, an Eco-conscious optimist, a friend, an introvert and above all else, I'm a human--who believes in the Golden Rule."

A former high school English teacher, Jen is now a fulltime freelancer in the publishing world, who works on websites, social media, author tours, and reviewing. He favourite book of all time is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.


1 comment:

  1. I can attest that Jen gave me the Craig Johnson/Walt Longmire speech years ago and I was hooked out of the gate. Craig draws great characters (main and supporting) and fantastic dialogue. I highly recommend the series as well and thank Jen for putting it on my radar.