Rugged, Wild and Scenic Wyoming: The Cold Dish, Craig Johnson


cover cold dishPenguin, 2004

ISBN 0143036424 (ISBN13: 9780143036425)

Part of my Mysterious USA Reading Challenge

As always, NO SPOILERS…

Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish has been my favorite book I’ve read for this challenge so far. Being a fan of the show inspired by the Walt Longmire series, I was expecting this novel to be good, but not this good. I was actually a little afraid that I wasn’t going to like the literary Longmire as much as I like the TV one. In fact, however, I now think I have a crush on Longmire, even though he’s probably a bit old for me…and I’m married.

I really really really enjoyed this book and didn’t guess the identity of the killer until the very end—where I was reading frantically and telling everyone not to bother me as I raced through the crucial 10 pages. Johnson definitely knows how to ratchet up the suspense. LOVED it!

Without giving anything away, the novel is ultimately about revenge, and considering the strong Native American themes in the book; revenge takes on a very deep meaning. Hence the title.

I loved, though, how Johnson balanced very serious topics like revenge with Walt’s self-deprecating humor. It came off as super charming.

Even though I really love the TV show, the novel, as usual, was much better. While the show hints at Walt’s spirituality and his struggle between what can be called his “white” upbringing and what he has learned about Native American spirituality from Henry and working as police chief, the novel is more effective in this respect. I felt the novel presented that issue better and it was more important than it is in the show, where this struggle is mostly addressed through disconnected flashbacks and little else.

I have to say that at first I was so into the TV show that it was hard to remember the difference between it and the novel, but it was mostly superficial — for instance, in the novel Vic is not tall and blonde but short and Italian. Similarly, the only similarity between Henry Standing Bear in the novel and Lou Diamond Phillips is that the actor is 1/8 Native American. Don’t get me wrong, I think Lou Diamond Phillips does a great job as Longmire’s sidekick, but the character in the book is quite different.

Turk (Branch in the show) Connally is also very different, as is Ferg, but again, I’m not complaining about Bailey Chase at all—please keep the tight white t-shirt, wood-chopping scenes coming—they’re crucial to the show.

I’m surprised the character of Lucian Connally is so different and I would have really enjoyed seeing the one-legged crazy old man from the book in the TV show. On the show Lucian is just and SOB; in the book he is a completely lovable SOB.

This was a perfect book for the Mysterious USA Reading Challenge, with its great descriptions of the Wyoming landscape and way of life. Like the show, the novel effectively communicates the beauty and grandeur of the landscape and the hardships of life in such a wild place. It also communicates the social makeup of the state, its Native American population, the struggles of life on a reservation, and the issues that arise when two cultures have to live in close contact with each other, especially where one culture is historically subordinate to the other.

LOVED, LOVED, loved this book.

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