Book review: The Cold Dish, by Craig Johnson

If you’re expecting the TV show, prepare to be disappointed (November 2020)

The Cold Dish, by Craig Johnson

Television has been pretty bleak these days, so part of my nightly period of unwinding before bedtime has been to watch reruns of the Longmire TV series. It remains a strong effort, although I have avoided rewatching it since the last episode in 2017 because rather than cap off the series gracefully, Netflix decided to overdose the characters with a plotline so syrupy that it put the conclusion in a coma as far as I am concerned.

Watching the odd Longmire rerun, though, did reignite my interest in the milieu, so when I saw the discounted prices for the first two books in the Longmire series on Apple Books, I took the plunge. If this sounds appealing, be warned that the water is nippy.

The Longmire character on TV is enigmatic, not only to the audience but also to those around him who should know him best. The book version tells the stories from Longmire’s perspective so that even though Johnson does not share every single thought and action of his main character, it is very different looking out at the world from inside rather than in at Sheriff Walter Longmire from the outside.

Other characters are different, too. Receptionist Ruby seems to live to give Walt grief, Jim Ferg Ferguson is a part-time deputy, Deputy Vic Moretti is foul-mouthed and far from respectful, Branch Connally appears under a different name and works in a different town, and Henry Standing Bear is physically Sheriff Longmire’s superior. About the only person whose character is the same is ex-sheriff Lucian Connally.

The biggest difference, though, is the pacing. The TV shows are like finely-crafted mechanical watches (except for the aforementioned final episode), where you have to pay attention to everything in every subplot all the time. The plot and subplots resolve on the screen version like ocean waves crashing on the sand.

In print, there is virtually no pace. The action ebbs and flows. The dialogue ebbs and flows. The plots ebb and flow. Several times, I had to stop reading for a while because I had fallen into the trap of thinking that the action was finally taking off, only to be disappointed a page or two later.

One fun thing about reading the book version is that you can have your map open as you read, and even though the city of Durant is fictional, as is Absaroka County, Wyoming, Johnson’s descriptions of landmarks in the area around Buffalo, Wyoming, are real enough that you can get a sense of where the action is taking place.

Where the TV show stays most true to the books is in the relationship between Walt and Standing Bear, although their banter seems more vivid in the book.