Title: The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire #1)
Author: Craig Johnson
Format: Electronic (Kindle)
When May Sweeps was over, my valiant partner and I combed through Netflix for bingewatching material and found Season 1 of A&E’s Longmire ready and waiting. It wasn’t until the tenth and final episode that I caught the “Based on the novel…” credit flashing over the beginning action. I immediately ran to the library website and downloaded the first three books, eager to immerse myself in the Wyoming sheriff’s adventures. I had enjoyed the show immensely and couldn’t wait to “read more about it” (as they used to say at the end of Afterschool Specials.)
I have good news and I have bad news. Let’s start with the good, shall we?
These books are very, very good. That in and of itself is nice to know, seeing as there are thus far nine in the series. The first book–The Cold Dish–has a few pacing issues as Johnson tries to set up his world and characters but once you learn your way around you really don’t want to leave fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming.
There’s more good news to come, but I think this is a good time to pop in with the bad news.
If you go to these books because you really like the A&E show and want that Walt and Henry and Vic and Branch and Ruby…oops. Sorry. About the only thing these novels have in common with the TV show are the names of some characters and the general idea of a Wyoming sheriff, his Indian* best friend and his sexy deputy. The books are completely different in tone, in plot, in story. While the Walt Longmire of A&E’s cop show is a taciturn father figure with broodingly quiet competence his novel predecessor is garrulous, witty, wordy and philosophical. The books are written in the first person, and Walt tells his story with liberal amounts of wry wit. Classical literary allusions pepper the pages; every book has at least one Shakespeare quote. I’d definitely say the show and the novels are equally enjoyable, but honestly it’s sort of like comparing roast beef and Chicago-style pizza.
The other bad news is that if you come to these looking for traditional series mystery you may disappointed as well. Each book thus far has a central crime but it’s never much of a puzzle. Since the books are more about the camaraderie of Walt and his coterie of eccentrics the entertainment value comes from following their interactions. As far as mysteries go these are quite possibly the complete opposite of the page-turning thrillers by Dan Brown, Jonathan Kellerman, Jeffrey Deaver and Patricia Cornwell. You still turn the pages, but just to hang out with everybody. There aren’t that many compelling “gosh, I wonder what that mysterious residue was?” types of questions. As long as you know that going into it, you’ll be fine.
In fact, as I write this review and ponder the whole thing I realise that the books these remind me most of are the Father Tim/Mitford novels by Jan Karon. Now, before you think “ugh, I’m not doing that” I don’t mean they’re similar in tone. It’s just that these books, like those, are highly serialised and highly atmospheric in their setting. Just as Karon’s books are the story of Mitford and the goofy characters who live there, these are the more butch version, the story of Absaroka County.
Each book does deal with a crime that is solved by the end of the novel, but the overarching stories of Walt, Henry, et. al. carry through from one novel to the next. It’s very good to know that going into it; it’s also a good idea to have more than one novel on hand because you’ll want to dive right into the subsequent story to see what happens next.
As far as ratings go, I’d say the books get four bookworms as general fiction. But if I were rating them as genre police procedurals I’d actually have to give them 2.5-3 bookworms. In other words–I love them, but the Mystery aspect is NOT their central strength.
*The books are very clear that the term “Indian” is preferable to Native American from the Indian point-of-view as the Cheyenne do not consider themselves Americans. Not knowing any Cheyenne personally I’ll take Johnson’s word for it.
Congratulations go to Bridgett Williams-Searle, who won the giveaway for Anna And The Dragon by Jill Domschot. I apologise profusely for the delay in announcing it. Things went pear-shaped here for a bit. But we’re back on track! Yay!