The Cold Dish: A Walt Longmire Novel
By Craig Johnson
In Absaroka County, Wyoming, four teen-aged boys gang-rape a Cheyenne girl who is developmentally disabled as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome. They are convicted but only given suspended prison sentences. Two years later, one of the boys is found dead, and Sheriff Walter Longmire must investigate. As developments arise, and a second of the four boys is found murdered, Walt wonders if he should suspect his friend Henry Standing Bear, who is related to the rape victim. The murderer turns out to be a most unlikely suspect.
I normally don’t read this type of book, but Craig Johnson was a surprise guest at a recent writing group meeting. He lives in Ucross, about twenty miles east of Sheridan, Wyoming, where I live. Absaroka County is actually Johnson County, about 30 miles south of here. Intrigued by his discussion of the setting and characters, I decided to try The Cold Dish.
This book is not your run-of-the-mill mystery. It offers humorous glimpses of small-town life, friendship, and Native American history and folklore. Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear, working together, reminded me, somewhat, of The Lone Ranger and Tanto, whose adventures I enjoyed following on the radio as a teen-ager.
I found the setting a bit disorienting. In the book, the Cheyenne reservation is in Absaroka County. In reality, the nearest Indian reservation is about thirty miles in the opposite direction from Sheridan. This probably wouldn’t bother anyone not living in the area, but I think it might have made more sense to set the story in Montana near Crow Agency or perhaps at the other end of Wyoming, close to the Wind River Reservation.
Also, I found the end shocking and depressing. I don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t that. What’s so upsetting is the stark reality of sexual predators getting off scot free, especially if they’re white and their victims are not. On the other hand, the book offers an underlying message. Revenge is a dish best served cold but better never served at all.
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