Friday, May 4, 2018


THE COLD DISH by Craig Johnson (Penguin, 2004)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Walt Longmire, sheriff of Wyoming's Absaroka County, knows he's got trouble when Cody Pritchard is found dead. Two years earlier, Cody and three accomplices had been given suspended sentences for raping a Northern Cheyenne girl. Is someone seeking vengeance? Longmire faces one of the more volatile and challenging cases in his twenty-four years as sheriff and means to see that revenge, a dish that is best served cold, is never served at all. 

It's interesting to go back to the beginning with Craig Johnson's excellent series of novels starring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire. I'd heard of the books thanks to fellow reviewers who raved about the series, but my first taste of Longmire came in the screen form - I quickly became an ardent fan of the Netflix series.

Having now read several of Johnson's books, I'm now a big fan of both, though like another book and TV show combo I love (Bosch, based on Michael Connelly's books), there are some stark differences between the two mediums; the screen adaptations deftly capture the spirit more than all specifics.

The main plotline in this debut novel was actually used, in repurposed and differing form, in the TV show, so once I realised that early on, I was curious as to how that may effect my reading of COLD DISH. As it turned out, there was no negative impact. I loved this book. It underlines that right from the very beginning Johnson had an incredibly strong narrative voice, a deft touch for dialogue, and a wonderful way of bringing the Wyoming landscapes and the people who populate them to vivid life.

For fans of the TV series, book Walt is a little funnier than screen Walt. And Henry Standing Bear is more imposing physically than the excellent Lou Diamond Phillips. Other characters, such as former sheriff Lucian Connally, and deputies 'the Ferg' and Connally come in different forms too. But that spirit rides strong through both books and screen. The frontier feel of a mystery series that's a modern western, timeless and yet still contemporary too. There are lots of interesting issues and interplay.

Reading THE COLD DISH you can tell that Johnson created something really special. There's a verve to his storytelling, a great mix of grit and grins. The good news for us is that this was just the first of many: fifteen novels, a book of short stories, and three separate ebooks. So far.

And that excellent TV show.

I'm glad I went back to the beginning, and am looking forward to working my way through it all.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, talked about the genre onstage at literary festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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