Monday, March 22, 2021

Popular Series Opener More About the Journey Than the Destination

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I started watching Longmire, a crime series on Netflix, without realizing it was based on a set of books.  Since I'm a staunch the-book-is-always-better-than-the-movie person, I immediately stopped watching and got to reading The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson.  In this first installment, we're introduced to Walt Longmire, who's been sheriff of (fictional) Absaroka County, Wyoming, for 25 years.  Although the venerable old cowboy loves his job, retirement is starting to sound mighty good.  With an election on the horizon, he just might get his wish.  In the meantime, it's up to him to deal with the murder of a local bad boy.

No one is too surprised or too saddened by the shooting death of Cody Pritchard.  The young man was no altar boy.  In fact, he was known for making racist cracks about Native Americans and being involved in the vicious gang rape of Melissa Little Bird, a Cheyenne girl with learning disabilities, three years ago.  Cody received only a light sentence for his part in the crime, an outcome that pleased the smug boy and outraged both Walt and his county's Indian community.  An eagle feather found by Cody's corpse seems to indicate that someone with Native blood is seeking justice in their own way.  While Walt isn't about to shed a tear over the likes of Cody Pritchard, it's his job to find out who killed the kid and stop the murderer from executing the rest of Melissa's rapists.  With the help of Victoria "Vic" Moretti, his tough-talking deputy and protégé, the sheriff sets about to do just that.  As Walt digs deeper into the secrets of his small town friends and neighbors, he finds himself in increasing danger.  He won't stop until he finds the answers he seeks, even if it means stepping into the killer's crosshairs himself. 

I've heard The Cold Dish described as a "literary" mystery.  While I'm not sure it's as high-brow as all that, it's certainly more than your typical, run-of-the-mill police procedural.  For one thing, Johnson imbues the novel with a very strong sense of place.  You can feel his love for the American West—its landscape, its people, its contradictions—in every word he writes.  In addition, the story is much more about community than crime.  Johnson focuses on Walt's relationships with the people around him more than on the job he's doing.  The result is a folksy, long-winded novel that's enjoyable more for the journey than the destination.  While the plot takes a long time to get anywhere, which makes the story sag in places, there's still plenty in the way of humor, quirky characters, and local color to keep the reader entertained.  The killer's identity also surprised me, which doesn't happen all that often for this veteran mystery reader.  However, the most appealing thing about The Cold Dish by far is its hero.  Walt Longmire is an endearing character on many levels.  Not only is he brave, compassionate, and committed, but he's also fallible and self-deprecating.  It's impossible not to like him.  All these things considered, it's easy to see why this book has garnered so many fans since its publication in 2004.  While it's hardly an edge-of-your-seat thriller, it's an entertaining read.  The real question for me is, do I want to continue with the series?  Maybe, maybe not is my answer.  While I enjoy character-driven crime fiction, I prefer the kind that also features a taut, focused plot.  This is not that, so we'll see if I continue on with the series or not...

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of C.J. Box's Joe Pickett series, Margaret Coel's Wind River Reservation series, and Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Cold Dish with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for submitting this title to the Medical Examiner's Reading Challenge! Laura Marlane is also working her way thru the Longmire series!

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  2. I've never heard of this series on Netflix. I think it's great that it interested you enough to read the books.

    I hope you'll continue to enjoy them.

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  3. I think I've read six of these, the last one four or five years ago. Somehow I lost interest and I'm not sure why as they weren't bad really. Oh well.

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  4. I watched and really enjoyed the first season of this one but haven't read any of the books. I like the use of place but haven't had the best luck with character driven books lately. I might try this on audio at some point though. Great review!

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  5. While this book sounds good, I think it's one that I actually might enjoy more in Netflix form.

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  6. The Longmire series is actually one of my favorites. I've read 14 of the 16 books in the series, the novellas, and some of the short stories now...and loved the Netflix series beginning with the second year.

    I think this one has to kind of grow on you if you're going to like it. I found that both the books and the Netflix thing got better as the characters became more and more real to me. I gave up on them for a bit, but kept coming bsck until I finally fell in love with most of the characters in the books.

    Some of them read like thrillers - especially the ones when Longmire goes into Mexico or some other remote place on his own. Others are solid mysteries...but for me, it's still the characters that keep me reading them.

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