January 12, 2015

Review of The Cold Dish

The Cold Dish: A Longmire MysteryIntroducing Wyoming’s Sheriff Walt Longmire in this riveting novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Hell Is Empty and As the Crow Flies, the first in the Longmire Mystery Series, the basis for LONGMIRE, the hit A&E original drama series

Fans of Ace Atkins, Nevada Barr and Robert B. Parker will love this outstanding first novel, in which New York Times bestselling author Craig Johnson introduces Sheriff Walt Longmire of Wyoming’s Absaroka County. Johnson draws on his deep attachment to the American West to produce a literary mystery of stunning authenticity, and full of memorable characters. After twenty-five years as sheriff of Absaroka County, Walt Longmire’s hopes of finishing out his tenure in peace are dashed when Cody Pritchard is found dead near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Two years earlier, Cody has been one of four high school boys given suspended sentences for raping a local Cheyenne girl. Somebody, it would seem, is seeking vengeance, and Longmire might be the only thing standing between the three remaining boys and a Sharps .45-70 rifle.

With lifelong friend Henry Standing Bear, Deputy Victoria Moretti, and a cast of characters both tragic and humorous enough to fill in the vast emptiness of the high plains, Walt Longmire attempts to see that revenge, a dish best served cold, is never served at all.

From Publishers Weekly
A strong sense of place, a credible plot and deft dialogue lift Johnson's good-humored debut novel, the first of a new series, set in Bighorn Mountain country. Walt Longmire, the veteran sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyo., usually has little to do on his patrols. When Cody Pritchard is found shot to death near the Cheyenne reservation, everyone, including Deputy Victoria Moretti, a transplanted Philadelphian, believes he died in an accident. But two years earlier, Cody was one of four high schoolers convicted of raping a young Native American girl. All were given suspended sentences, and when another of the four turns up dead, it appears that someone is out for revenge. As fear mounts, Sheriff Longmire feels tension in the air between the white population and the Native American community, and he's not pleased to think that his lifelong friend, Henry Standing Bear, might be directly involved in the murders. While the prose could stand tautening at times simply to up the suspense, Johnson has made an assured start that should appeal to a wide range of mystery fans.

From Bookmarks Magazine
The Cold Dish, a multilayered whodunit mystery, stands out in its genre. Shades of racism, mysticism, and revenge give the novel nuance; dead-on dialogue, good-natured humor, and flesh-and-blood characters, including the foul-mouthed deputy Victorian "Vic" Moretti, give it life. Johnson, who lives in Ucross, Wyoming, knows the Western landscape well, and creates stunning and violent scenes (including a raging blizzard) of the Rocky Mountains. Only The Philadelphia Inquirer faulted the novel’s roughness and comparatively immature prose. The other critics look forward to reading more from Johnson’s powerful voice and reconnecting with his eccentric mélange of characters.
Rob's review

A few comments on the above reviews:

  • Johnson's style is close to the opposite of Parker's--elaborate and ornate rather than stripped down and spare.

  • I'd say there wasn't much "tension in the air between the white population and the Native American community"--not enough to mention it, anyway.

  • Henry Standing Bear was a suspect because he had a green pickup truck just like the killer's. That seems an unlikely and contrived coincidence.

  • Overall, I'd say The Cold Dish was a fine first novel--perhaps deserving of an award for best debut mystery novel. But I wouldn't call it "outstanding."

    I wouldn't compare it to a Tony Hillerman novel, either. In Native terms, Hillerman's novels have a much strong sense of place and culture.

    The Native aspects

    It's clear Johnson is familiar with his Native neighbors in Wyoming. He depicts real Native people, not stereotypical cardboard cutouts.

    But a few gimmicks mar his portrayals:

  • Most of the Native characters, especially Henry Standing Bear, don't use contractions in their speech. That makes them sound slow and serious like stereotypical Indians.

  • One character, Lonnie Little Bird, finishes every utterance with the words "Yes, it is so." I've never heard an Indian talk that way except maybe in old Western movies. It's ridiculous.

  • Standing Bear has a tendency to pop up with at just the right time when Longmire needs him. There's a hint of mysticism there, like Henry knows things that Longmire doesn't.

  • The spirits of the Old Cheyenne have some mystical connection to the murder weapon, and they appear to guide Longmire through blinding snow. It's not clear why they'd appear to him and help him. He hasn't done anything special to earn their attention.

    Again, it feels like a gimmick. "I'll show my readers that Indians aren't the same as other people," Johnson must've thought. "They have supernatural connections that we can't hope to understand."

  • Anyway, I thought the revelation of the killer played a little fast and loose with the clues, so I wasn't totally sold on the ending. The prose was too flowery and not taut enough--for example, 14 lines to describe the old sheriff's face. Rob's rating: 7.0 of 10.

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