Saturday, August 18, 2012

Crime, Crime on the Range

Title: The Cold Dish
Author: Craig Johnson
Bookmark: Library receipt.  I'm pretty sure that's why they provide those things.

By the third page of this book, Sheriff Walter Longmire was drinking a beer as he drove across town to meet his deputy, a foul-mouthed young lady from Philly.  That was about two pages after I decided I really liked the book, and Craig Johnson.

Walt is sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming.  I loved the book because it was well-written, had great characters, a very good, very believable ending, and because I enjoyed the sparse dialog between Walt and Henry Standing Bear; a language borne of decades of friendship and two-sided sarcasm.  I also loved it because, although Wyoming is not Oregon, it is similar in many ways, and reading Johnson's descriptions of the mountains, people, wildlife, and weather made me a little homesick.

Full disclosure: I discovered this series because I found episodes of Longmire on Hulu, enjoyed them, and found that they were based on a series of books.  One of the episodes ("Unfinished Business") lifts its major plotline from this book, but there are significant changes, so that the two or three people I naturally suspected were not guilty of the transgressions for which I suspected them.  I liked that.

Walt commits his open-container violation on his way to either visit a scene where was body was discovered or dispatch Deputy Victoria "Vic" Moretti to same.  Vic gets the case.  A young man had been shot in the back with what turns out to be a large bore rifle round.  The weapon is rather particular; a .45 caliber Sharps rifle (according to Walt, the source of the term "Sharpshooter," thanks to its extraordinary range and accuracy, though Wikipedia is less clear on this point) which, except for some Italian reproductions which lack the legendary accuracy, are all historic weapons.  In most areas, the rarity of such a rifle would alone break the case, but as Walt point out, this is Wyoming.  Everyone has a good rifle, and most know how to use them.

They originally hope that it may be a simple hunting accident, but Walt and Vic both suspect otherwise; the victim was one of four boys convicted a year earlier for raping a young Cherokee woman with fetal alcohol syndrome.  They try to reach the other three boys, but two are twins in a family apparently on vacation; the last was deemed least guilty in their collective crime, and his own family is tearing itself apart at the seams.  He is the only one they are able to secure in protective custody, and he seems more broken than the Indian girl.

When a second boy is killed, Walt and Henry go into the mountains to find his twin brother, braving an early Wyoming blizzard swirling in off the mountains.  Walt must fight the boy's urge to run, withstand the elements, and contend with an ancient, priceless, and possibly haunted Cherokee rifle which could be the murder weapon, were it not safely alibied.  Plus, he has lady troubles.

Because there are other books in the series (this is the first), you know he survives, and probably prevails, but I think the book really excels because Johnson, like Walt, is from Wyoming, and he knows that people scar.  Walt has scars, he bleeds, he hurts, and though he prevails, he still needs time to heal.

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posted by reyn at 10:52 AM


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