Cold Dish: A Walt Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries), The

Craig Johnson
Introducing 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 Walt 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.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2018-02-24
I rather liked this one-a beginning series from a new author. I loved his sense of humor and the location was very real. It is set in Wyoming with a county sheriff of a small county in Wyoming. I like the issues this sheriff faced with the local reservation and the white/red issue. Overall, I really enjoyed this one and have to say, I am eager to read more in this series.
Reviewed: 2016-06-24
A group of friends and I have something that we like to call Forced Book Reads, where we each choose a book and make the whole gang read it. (Or at least they have to if they want the others to read THEIR book.) For my selection, I went with Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, and now it's my friend Chris's turn, and he chose this.

I would like to state for the record at this point that, as a whole, I did like this book. However, pretty early on, I noticed some nitpicky little things that started to bother me, and once I strap on my Nitpickers, they don't come off that easily and I'll be walking around in them for a goodish while.

So let's get this show on the road and start with the issues. First of which is the fact that I called the whodunnit and why at 49%, so it was pretty predictable as far as the plot went. (Hint: It was NOT Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the rope.) I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew because I have a note on my Kindle with my prediction, which was even before the 2nd body was discovered, though not by much.

The main character figures it out at 93%. This in itself is not unusual, that the main character figures things out very close to the end of the story, but I bring it up because I had to wade through 44% more before the main character, a Sheriff who in many other ways seems to be very intuitive and experienced, got with the program.

The reader (if they aren't there yet) is filled in on the who at 94% and the why at 97%. I bring THIS up because of the style and blatant obfuscation attempts in the narrative. I'll come back to this.

And in between all of that is a whole mess of description and... to be honest, filler.

I really enjoy mysteries and I love when they keep me on my toes. I love smart and fast-paced thrillers that think they were a freight train in their past life and just run you down if you can't keep up. But then there are the mysteries that are a slower pace, that take the time and set the stage and work up to things slowly. Those can be just as enjoyable, but they require a more deft hand and a surer sense of direction.

Imagine that the story is giving you directions for how to get to Brad's party after school on Friday while his parents are out of town. The fast-paced story will tell you to take the interstate, get off at exit 4 and fuck the roads, just drive due north across the fields until you see Keg Mountain in front of Brad's parents' house. 15 minutes from your last class to the site of your future beercoma. 10 if you "forget" you said you'd give that moocher Joey a ride because he's always late and you don't feel like waiting. (Also, GAH! When will he buy his own car??)

This book would take you straight through town (at a funereal 15 MPH because it's also a school zone), then have you turn right and take State Route 13 for 8 miles. Hook a left at the site of the old Barnett farm, which they lost 15 years ago during the drought. Poor old man Barnett. He now lives with his daughter and son-in-law in St. Petersburg Florida, and hates the humidity and misses the mountains and feels like a burden, so he drinks too much and is a little too irritable with the grandkids, and the patience is wearing thin on the living situation, and poor old man Barnett may end up in a "retirement community" where nobody will visit him and he'll die alone listening to Bernice in the room next door have long, loud arguments with her husband who died in 1993. So, left at the farm, and then continue on this road for a while, until you see the lightning-struck tree. You'll know it's the RIGHT lightning-struck tree because there will be a carving of Jesus' face in the tree bark. Some say the lightning did that - but I was there the night Sam got drunk and thought it would be funny to convince the town it was a miracle. He used a paring knife, but it got the job done, and the rubes in town do think it's a miracle, despite the fact that it happened 6 months after the tree was hit. Apparently miracles take time. At the Jesus tree, make another left, and then a sharp right onto Hooker Creek Road, so named because the family that used to own the land would hook fish out of the creek using repurposed wire hangers, not because there are hookers in the creek. Stay on that road for about 20 minutes, and just LOOK at that scenery... and then... Wait, didn't we pass Brad's house 20 minutes ago? I have to go to the bathroom...

That's a bit, uhh... hyperbolic, I admit, but it's not inapt. This is definitely a slow build of a book, and for so much of it, there's just not a lot going on but scenery. We get descriptions of the town, the reservation, the inhabitants of both, the mountains and the general outside areas of Absaroka County, as well as the weather, the weather, the weather, and also the pricipitational habits of the great outdoors. (I'll save you some time: Warmish and sunny, but getting cooler, then cold. Cold. Colder. Snowy. More snow. Snow with fog. Blizzard.)

This book had something of an identity crisis. There were times when it felt like it wanted to be something, anything, other than what it was. It is a slow-build murder mystery set in Small Town, Wyoming. What it seemed like it wanted to be, at times, was everything else. Joke book, travelogue, Park & Field Guidebook, romance, Native American historical, litigation thriller, meteorological almanac, and a literary reference guide, to name a few options. Add to that the fact that the narrative jumped around seemingly at random, and it's rather off-putting and confusing. The first few times, I was convinced that there were parts missing from the ebook. But then it kept happening, and I realized that was just part of the style. Most of the narrative shifts, which, in my experience usually come with a small bombshell to tease the reader that when we come back to this point, there will be something worthwhile there waiting, just kind of fizzled out and went nowhere.

So, let's talk about the style a bit more. There was something... strange about it. Not just that it jumped around without any rhyme or reason, but also because the narrative didn't like to actually divulge who was talking. Sometimes it was just like Johnson forgot to mention who was involved in a conversation, like when Walt made a phone call and "she" answered. Maybe this was a misstep during the editing process and he fully intended to go back and specify who "she" was, but deadlines loom, and it's not a dealbreaker. But other times, it felt very intentional, the identity of the people involved in something, other than Walt, were purposefully hidden from the reader to create a sense of suspense, or foreboding, or something. This is what I was referring to in the beginning of this review, when I mentioned the obfuscation in the narrative, but it was noticeable, and sometimes quite obvious, which isn't good.

Part of the reason I think it didn't work is that Craig Johnson just doesn't have a great sense of timing. There was a section, from about 50% to 75% or so, that got to chugging along quite nicely, and I thought, "Oh good - this is finally starting to get going!" but then it just dropped off again and lost focus. Something important to the plot would happen, and rather than following that thread, we'd wander off into a description of the scene, or a bit of history regarding guns, or what an eagle feather symbolizes, or maybe a little memory of the trial, which is the link between the victims. Important stuff to the story... but awkwardly timed to interrupt the flow of the narrative, rather than enhance it. I admit that I skimmed a goodish amount of these sections.

One more thing about the writing, and then I promise I'll say something positive. There were a few times when Walt went all technobabble on me, which is OK, but I would hope that there would be an English translation for the lay readers who might not know what the hell he's saying. For instance: "Massive cavitations with a lot of radiopague snowstorm."

Oh yeah, well "Elucidation nonexistent despite a voluminous perplexity of confabulation."

In your FACE.

One of the best things about the style was the sense of humor. I loved Walt's sarcasm and wit, and I especially loved how he and Henry played off of each other. Their scenes were among my favorite in the whole book, and honestly, I could've swapped out the whole plot of the book for just a bunch more scenes with Walt and Henry.

I did like most of the characters in the book - this little town seemed peopled with interesting, smart, and funny characters with loads of personality. Most of them, anyway. I really enjoyed the characters, and think that's a definite check mark on the Positive column for this book.

Where the negative check mark comes back in is regarding their names. Quite a few of them have similar sounding names: Cody and Cady. Vic, Vonnie, Vern, Ernie/Ernest (this last one just because of the similarity of 'ern' sound in my head.). And a decent sized majority of them have, in my opinion, literary names. I first thought of this when a group of three new people were introduced in the course of a few sentences: Kyle Straub, Jules Belden, and Vern Selby. It's impossible to read Jules and Vern in the same sentence and not think of Jules Verne. And the name "Straub" gives me an eye twitch, so of course I'm going to think of the horrible, horrible writer who shares the name.

But wait, there's more....

Vonnie Hayes / Vonnie Hughes
Kyle Straub / Peter Straub
Jules Belden / Jules Verne
Vern Selby / Twofer: Jules Verne & Hubert Selby Jr
Dorothy Caldwell / Dorothy Parker
Henry Standing Bear / (O.) Henry or Henry Miller or Henry James? (My vote goes for James as his reference - Henry likes the ghost stories.)
Walt Longmire / Walt Whitman?

Now, in case you're just tuning in, I love me some books. I love reading them, I love thinking about reading them, I love when other people read them and so on. I usually appreciate book references in other books. They are like little Easter eggs to be found. But... they didn't really work for me in this book.

I have no doubt that Walt is an intelligent person. He went to college (albeit briefly, before he lost his deferment and was drafted to Vietnam), and was made an MP. He has been in law enforcement ever since, but I'm not of the opinion that that means that he can't enjoy reading. It just seems strange to me because he DIDN'T read at all during the course of this book, yet rattled off literary references and quotes like they were tattooed on the inside of his eyelids. He can spot literary style thievery 3 different ways in 3 sentences written by the local journalist, and has a witty quip for just about every occasion. Yet he never reads a book that I noticed. When he's home, he's sulking and drinking (though not in the 'jaded alcoholic detective' way - just in the 'unwinding after a long day in my empty, lonely house' way). But OK... Maybe he has a really good memory for books he read in college. Sure. Stranger things have happened.

So... yeah. There's a lot of nitpicky stuff that just rubbed me the wrong way while reading this. BUT... all that bitching aside, I did enjoy the book, mainly for Walt and Henry, and I'd bet a few dollars that the series gets better from here, so I'd be willing to give it a second chance. Maybe Johnson will hit his stride in the second book, and the series would end up being great.
Good mystery and adventure with well-rounded characters. Satisfying light entertainment.
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