Monday, November 30, 2015

REVIEW | MYSTERY | The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
The Cold Dish /Death Without Company by Craig Johnson
Publication Year: 2004/2006
Genre: Mystery
Series: Longmire #1 and 2
Awards: None
Format:eBook - I bought the first 4 in the series in a fit of greediness
Narrator: NA

Why?:  Earlier this year I became COMPLETELY obsessed with Longmire the TV show.  If you don't believe me look under Longmire on my TV Shows tab.  Not surprisingly, I wanted to experience the books upon which the show is based.

Walt Longmire is the middle-aged Sheriff of the mostly rural Absaroka County, Wyoming.  He at first seems a little flaky, and disorganized, and he is...a little.  Underneath all that however he is clever and resourceful and he knows his county like an old friend. 

In The Cold Dish a boy is found murdered and not just any boy. The murder victim is one of three boys that had gotten very light/non-existent sentences for gang-raping a Cheyenne girl the year before.  If you are a fan of the show you will recognize the similarity with the first season episode Unfinished Business. While the basic premise is the same everything else is very different including whodunnit. 

Death Without Company is the investigation of the death of Mari Baroja in the Durant nursing home where she and former county sheriff Lucian Connally are living.  Lucian insists that Mari's death is not natural and as Walt begins to investigate, he discovers that Mari's past was a violent and troubled one.  He is also disturbed by her connection with Lucian who is his mentor and a county icon.

Much to my chagrin, I read these books back in June so my memory of the particulars is VERY fuzzy.  I also neglected to take notes. As such this review will be a little more general than I wish because the main thing I do remember is that I loved them. In other words, my delay in writing about the books is not because they weren't fantastic!

I was struck many times at how different the books are from the show but they are equally good if not better.  Like in the show, Walt has lost his wife and it did discombobulate him a bit but at the start of The Cold Dish it is a few years in the past and we find out very slowly that Walt and his wife were no longer really in love.  Vic and Ferg are there but Vic's been around a few years and Ferg is a good bit more competent then he is in the show.  There is a Branch-like character but he disappears quick, Kady exists but lives in PA and Henry Standing Bear is still Walt's best friend.  Probably the biggest difference is that Walt is not quite the same.  Walt of the books is a little friendlier and openly funnier than the dour, serious Walt of the show.  Book Walt comes across as a tad schlubbier as well, perhaps not quite as tormented or physically bad ass though he must be a little easy on the eyes as he has pretty good luck with the ladies in both books.

The thing that really set the books apart however is the quality and style of the writing.  It is beautiful and funny and clever and unpretentious and charming and.... I just absolutely loved it. The perspective is all Walt's and his voice is one that is impossible not to be taken in by.  Being inside Walt's head and knowing what he is thinking is also a big difference from the TV show!  Anyway, here is a sampler - I think the first two are from The Cold Dish and the second two from Death Without Company:
I was going through that little bit of worry that I had said or done something wrong and that she might not want to see me again. I saw me every day, and I wasn’t so sure I was that fond of my company. I promised myself that I would call her up and make a real date, maybe a lunch of lessening expectations.
 I always wondered about men who spent their time trying to anticipate and know a fish in a world where man’s knowledge of each other could only be called scarce. It just seemed to be gratuitously ignorant for any man to think that he could think like a fish. Then there was the high deceit of the artificial fly; subtlety, guile, and sly deception created and instilled only to lure a cautious and tentative fish to its death. They were as bad as drug fiends, living in their shadowy world of aquatic intrigue.
So I used one of my age-old cop tricks and asked her if there was anything else she wanted to tell me. She used one of the age-old mother tricks and just said no. Cop tricks pale in comparison with mother tricks.
Lost Twin is a lot like the other hundreds of pristine, alpine lakes in the Bighorns that seem to be sitting and waiting for calendar photographers. It lies in one of the mountain’s few hanging valleys, and you could easily envision the tributary glacier that had gently cut this hidden one. With their beds of stone, the Lost Twins had given up little to the forces of erosion. It was as if their hearts had been broken by the retreating glacier, and they were not likely to allow such liberties again.
Johnson captures the absurdity of life and the majestic beauty of nature often in the same paragraph.  The books are an absolute pleasure to read.

And what about the mystery?  In The Cold Dish it's fine.  Nothing special but good enough to carry along an interesting enough plot and provide a stage for the wonderful characters and the fantastic setting. I really enjoy mysteries where the solution is tied to a victim's past and Death Without Company uses this "trope" to perfection and with some interesting twists that I didn't guess at.  

I again apologize for such a flimsy, general review but I liked the books so much I wanted to at least put together something to encourage folks to read them!

FINAL VERDICT:   A mystery series notable for the beautiful writing, engaging characters and a unique setting.  Definitely one of my favorite mystery series I've discovered recently and I predict it will become one of my favorite's of all time. If I wasn't such a flake I would've binge-read every single book in this series already. 4 out of  5 Stars

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