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Friday 29 May 2015

‘The Cold Dish’ by Craig Johnson

Published by Orion,
28 April 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-4091-5903-2 (PB)

The high plains of Wyoming are better known as a location for an old-fashioned cowboy adventure than a 21st century murder mystery – but give or take the odd mobile phone and helicopter, there’s not a lot of difference between the two in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series.

The Cold Dish is the first, newly available in the UK though nearly ten years old in the USA. Walt Longmire is the long-serving sheriff of Absaroka County, leading a small team of deputies from a tiny town which hardly qualifies as the one-horse variety.

Since The Cold Dish is the first of the series, in addition to plotting the mystery Johnson has to introduce his cast of richly-drawn, idiosyncratic characters. This makes for an unhurried pace – probably much like day-to-day life on the high plains, where the lawmen spend much of the day with their feet up on the desk, and most serious crime in an average week is a bar-room brawl.

But this is no average week. A body is found out on the high plains, and Sheriff Walt quickly identifies the victim as one of a gang of teenagers who raped a young disabled Cheyenne girl a few years earlier. The weapon is a distinctive type of antique rifle, and the owners of at least two of them in the vicinity happen to be Cheyenne. Is it a revenge killing? And if so, are the other gang members the next targets?

Suddenly Walt’s three and a half lawmen have a real crime to investigate – just as winter arrives in Wyoming with its usual disruptive flourish, and the state police want their piece of the action.

Johnson succeeds admirably at leading the reader round the same convoluted path as Walt finds himself following, at the same time bringing to life the people who inhabit both the foreground and the background of the vast and treacherously beautiful landscape. Among others, we meet Henry Standing Bear, Walt’s closest friend, a Cheyenne man of few words but much thought; Victoria Moretti, his potty-mouthed deputy from the eastern USA, far and away the best detective on the small force; taciturn Ferg and cocky Turk, the other deputies; Lonnie Little Bird, the raped girl’s wheelchair-bound father; Vonnie, Walt’s embryo love interest; Ruby, his sharp-tongued dispatcher and office manager; and a whole lot more besides, who hopefully will reappear as the series progresses. They all have backstory and baggage, which makes for a lot of potential.

The Cold Dish has plenty of appeal for lovers of old-fashioned westerns and modern murder mysteries alike. And Walt Longmire is a character  and a half. The series has a dozen titles in it; fingers crossed they all make it across the Atlantic.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Craig Johnson has received both critical and popular praise for his novels The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man's Moccasins and The Dark Horse. All five novels have been made selections by the Independent Booksellers Association, and The Cold Dish was a DILYS Award Finalist and was translated into French in 2009 as Little Bird and was just named one of the top ten mysteries of the year by Lire magazine and won the Prix du Roman Noir as the best mystery novel translated into French for 2010.  Death Without Company was selected by Booklist as one of the top-ten mysteries of 2006, won the Wyoming Historical Society's fiction book of the year. Kindness Goes Unpunished, the third in the Walt Longmire series, was number 38 on the American Bookseller's Association's hardcover best seller list.
Another Man's Moccasins, was the recipient of Western Writer's of America's Spur Award as Novel of the Year and the Mountains and Plains Book of the Year.  The Dark Horse, the fifth in the series has garnered starred reviews by all four prepublication review services, one of the only novels to receive that honour and was named by Publisher's Weekly as one of the top one hundred books of the year.
Craig lives with his wife Judy on their ranch in Ucross, Wyoming, population 25.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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