Author: Craig Johnson

Published: 2006

Mood: If you want a mystery that’s like an occasionally suspenseful travel guide to small town Wyoming but make it tactical.


Why is everyone calling Longmire a Western? After reading The Cold Dish, the first book in the Longmire series, I don’t see it.


Stories set in modern times can be Westerns, and so can mysteries. Not arguing that. But this series is so damn popular, and critics and fans hail the books as these great Westerns; I assumed it would involve cowboys, ranchers, rodeo… SOMETHING.


Here’s all the Western I got from it:


  • It takes place in small town Wyoming
  • There are quite a few Sharps rifles
  • There are Native American characters

That’s it! If you’re specifically seeking a Western adventure, this ain’t gonna scratch that itch. It’s honestly more entertaining to read the 3-star reviews of this book on Goodreads (especially the 2015 one by “Becky”).


I’m pretty sure the audience for The Cold Dish is a niche group of older men who have either been cops or been to war (or both), live in the Mountain States, are divorced or widowed, and think every gorgeous, powerful woman in the vicinity is within reach.


This is not a BAD book by any standards. About a quarter of it is a thrilling story that had me eagerly turning pages. I just don’t plan on reading any more in the series, because I was constantly annoyed by little issues with the writing, the female characters, and the pace.


You only get 5 minor penalties before you’re ejected. Sorry, Longmire.


TW: rape – the plot deals with it a lot.


photo of the book The Cold Dish in a sunbeam


The Cold Dish takes place in Absaroka County, Wyoming, and it’s getting nippy out. That’s important information, or at least, it seems like it must be because author Craig Johnson spends a great deal of the book talking about the air, the sun, the temperature, the snow, the light, and every other aspect of the season.


Sheriff Walt Longmire is thrust into a mystery that forces him to relive an old case where he feels he let down the victim. A group of teenage rapists got off with time in juvie, but now they’re turning up dead – killed by a unique weapon, with a special token left at the scene of the crime.


Lots of the townspeople WOULD have done it, especially Walt’s close friends and acquaintances on the reservation, because the little girl is Cheyenne. But Walt’s job is to protect the remaining rapists, even if it involves putting his life and his non-cop friends’ lives on the line.


There are too many suspects and not enough evidence. Will he solve the case before all of the guilty parties get killed? And honestly why the f*ck are we being asked to root for Walt to catch the revenge killer when one of the little rapists shoots and nearly kills Henry Standing Bear, basically the only solid male protagonist?!


illustration of a fancy moustache


I need to say it again – The Cold Dish is not a BAD book. Some of the characters are fun to read, and maybe are more deserving of their own stories than the rather dull and inconsistent Walt Longmire.


If you live in Wyoming, it’s probably enjoyable to read through all of those vivid, lengthy descriptions of the scenery, roads, places, and weather. Likewise, if you have a police or military background, you won’t get lost and feel totally excluded (like I did) in the frequent descent into overly technical tactical language.


There’s also a really well-written scene involving a helicopter and an on-foot manhunt in a blizzard.


Well, it started out thrilling. I fully admit that about two pages into Walt’s hypothermia hallucinations I started skimming, because that shit went on FOREVER (and it was kind of gross for a white author to write about a white sheriff who can commune with the ghosts of old Cheyenne warriors).


Unfortunately, this self-serving drivel makes up the bulk of The Cold Dish; the plot gets interesting and you perk up, only to have the narrative crushed under a bloated, rambling description, Vietnam story, unnecessary sexually charged conversation with a female character, or inconsequential scene that kills the pace – and your attention span.


And then, on top of the small town murder mystery, budding romance, and hard crime fiction – we’re served elements of supernatural fantasy. It honestly felt like Johnson wasn’t sure what kind of book this should be, so he tried his hand at everything.


Whoops, that was supposed to be the section where I talked about the good parts…


illustration of a fancy moustache


I mentioned a swarm of minor annoyances with the writing in The Cold Dish, and here they are:


  • Author Johnson frequently blasts through entire conversations without introducing the person speaking, only using “he” and “she”
  • But other times he doesn’t use those either, and instead inserts descriptions of what’s happening between the lines of dialogue, so that the only way you can be sure who said a line is if you have a great understanding of the mechanics of conversational paragraphing in writing – and can do the math on who spoke the last three lines, because those were also contained in paragraphs didn’t indicate a person’s name, either
  • We’re supposed to like Longmire, but he spends so much time moping, drinking, and not solving the case that it’s hard to like him any time he’s not being made cool by his association with Henry Standing Bear
  • Who, incidentally, should be the lead character – this guy is smart, calm, insanely fit, has deadly skills, figures everything out at the same pace as Longmire if not faster, AND he has to kick Longmire’s ass into shape and also get him access to insider intel on the reservation to do his job as sheriff
  • The female characters are all written in that typical male author style – we get lengthy descriptions of what they look like and whether or not they’re attractive to the protagonist
  • Longmire talks about how attractive his insanely smart, strong deputy is, and then later in the book he narrates thinking she doesn’t want him to touch her but he’s going to do it anyway – it’s a hug, but he’s her superior and he describes her attractiveness so often that it made my skin crawl
  • Oh, and too many of the characters have similar names and it gets confusing

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering why I keep defending this book and don’t just file the review under ‘Hated It’ and move on.


I can’t bring myself to call it a bag of crap. I did stay up that one night, anxiously reading that entire section with the blizzard and the drunk guy riding a mule. It was really entertaining. Maybe the series gets better as Johnson finds his niche.


Plus, Henry Standing Bear is such a total badass character. I can’t openly hate on a book with a character that good.