Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review of The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (Penguin, 2005)

Walt Longmire is the long-time sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming.  Having recently lost his wife, he’s looking forward to finding a worthy successor and hanging up his spurs.  As winter approaches his plans are dashed by the murder of Cody Pritchard on the edge of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.  Two years earlier, Pritchard and three other boys had received a suspended sentence for the rape of a local Cheyenne girl.  Given the general dissatisfaction with the verdict, there’s no shortage of potential vigilante killers.  There’s also the thorny issue of identity politics clouding the investigation.  Longmire’s job is to solve the case, whilst at the same time keeping the three other boys alive and maintaining good relations between all members of the remote, rural community.

There is lots to like about The Cold Dish.  The characterization, sense of place and prose are all excellent.  Johnson places the reader into Absaroka County and its colourful and complex characters, its social relations, local politics, and myths and legends.  All of the principle characters are very well drawn and there’s a good, even balance of strong male and female leads.  The landscape is a character in itself, fully fleshed out and realised, and used to good effect. Johnson draws on his own long law enforcement career to detail the nuances of police procedure and cop dynamics and personalities.  For the most part the plotting is very good, with the story unfolding at a nice pace, progressively becoming more complex and layered.  Several plausible characters are all viable suspects, keeping the reader on their toes.  However, in the last fifth of the book, the story becomes a little overly melodramatic and the resolution felt contrived to create a twist for the reader and just didn’t feel ‘right’ - difficult to discuss without spoilers, but it undermined what had been until then a really excellent read.  Nevertheless, this is superior fare and well worth a read.  I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the series - Death Without Company.


pattinase (abbott) said...

How long does it take you to read a 300 page book. You must be quite a fast reader to go through so many books a month. I am luck to do 6.

Rob Kitchin said...

Depends on how busy I am doing other things. Generally 3 days: 20-30 pages at breakfast, 70-80 pages at night between 10-midnight. At weekends, could be reading whenever. I don't ever feel I'm rushing a book; like to take my time.

Bill Selnes said...

Rob: I think it is an excellent series. I have read all of them but for the most recent. I love the evocation of place and weather in each book.

Kathy d. said...

I bought this book, as my library doesn't have it, the first in the series.

I haven't yet read it but loaned it to a friend who thought it excellent, and that Craig Johnson is one of the best U.S. mystery writers, with his characters having principles and very good attitudes and outlooks. That's in addition to it being a well-written book.