The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire #1) by Craig Johnson is the first book of a western mystery series that my husband and I read in tandem while we were on vacation. We both watch and enjoy the A& E television program, Longmire, based on this popular book series and decided that reading the first book was a good idea if we wanted to find the differences and commonalities between the two.
What we found is that unlike the television program which targets western aficionados who love action, mystery and drama, the book series that begins with The Cold Dish is a western mystery that includes all of the above, but that is geared toward, and I feel would be highly enjoyed by, mature adult readers. The primary character Walt Longmire is in his 50's as is his close friend and fellow investigator in many of the crime mysteries, Henry Standing Bear. Additionally many of the secondary characters that populate Walt's life in Wyoming's Absaroka County where the series is set are also mature adults. There is one main character in her 30's, Walt's Under-sheriff Victoria Moretti, and a few secondary characters, including deputies and Walt's daughter Cady. So, if you prefer to read stories with younger central characters this book and series may not be for you.
The mystery in The Cold Dish is excellent and the western atmosphere is flawless! I love Walt as the narrator with his self-deprecating wit and the overall humor that carries the reader through some seriously dangerous action. The close relationship and interactions between Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear provide some of the best moments of the story, as Henry helps Walt navigate personal problems brought about by the death of his wife, but Henry also serves as a sort of liaison between the Sheriff and the Cheyenne reservation when political or human issues arise. Walt's close friendship with Henry keeps him grounded, but it also brings a spirituality and a touch of mysticism to his life that adds much to the series as a whole. Obviously, Henry is a favorite character.
Robert Taylor as Longmire
In comparing the book to the television program, both my husband and I agree that Walt's quick, dry wit and self-deprecating humor is sorely missing from the television program. The TV Longmire is a depressed rough, tough, stoic man who cares deeply for his daughter Cady. He's not charming to others and often looks grim. Yet in the books, although Walt is coming out of a depression after losing his wife to cancer and definitely drinks too much, he is very much admired for his past and present deeds and liked by the town's population. Walt tries to be charming and often uses his sense of humor to win people over. Most importantly, he is ready to move on after having lost his wife four years earlier. Walt's wit and self-doubts make him quite human and the reader connects with this rough and tough man who on the inside is really a marshmallow -- everyone knows that! To me, this character became Walt in the books, a man I would love to know better, but he is the somewhat intimidating Longmire in the show. I think that says a lot.
Katee Sakhoff as Vic
The other difference I found is in how Walt's female deputy Victoria Moretti is portrayed in the show as opposed to the books. In the books, as the series begins, Vic has been working with Walt for two years and they know each other pretty well. She came to Absaroka County from Philadelphia's Police Department when her husband transferred to a new job in the area. She is not really happy to be stuck in the middle of nowhere and the contentious and dying relationship with her husband doesn't help, but that is kept off the pages. Vic is a foul-mouthed intelligent woman, a straight shooter so well-versed in new police procedures and forensics that she basically runs the Sheriff's office for Walt who is old school. Walt wants her to replace him when he retires. She thinks of Walt as her only friend and there is obvious care and affection between the two. I really love how Vic is characterized in The Cold Dish, and the respect and care that exists between her and the other characters in the story. Later on her relationship with Walt grows and moves in unexpected directions, but her direct approach never changes.
On the television program Vic's background is the same. She is still smart but works closer with Walt than in the first book or even in subsequent books, however, she somehow doesn't come off as knowledgeable, and although she is still tough there is a "lightness" about her that is not part of her character in the first book, but that can be found sparingly in some of the other installments. She is a much tougher and rougher character in the books. Additionally, in Longmire Vic plays Walt's partner and seems to spend time trying to set up Walt with women (in other words taking Henry's role), and secretly acting possessive of Longmire. Vic is not secretive, she says what she thinks. I see pieces of the Vic I love in the books in the Vic portrayed on television, but she's definitely not the same.
Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry
Overall, though, both the television program and the books are excellent and recommended. The crime mysteries and western atmosphere are excellent in both, and although I prefer the characterization in the books and the fact that the deep relationship and partnership between Walt and Henry drive many of the plot points with Vic serving as a central secondary character, I think the television program definitely draws viewers for a reason. I enjoy it, even if I find myself looking for those moments when Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) makes a longed for appearance. The Cold Dish I recommend to anyone who loves to read westerns and excellent mysteries. The series is addictive as I soon found out when I found myself reading Death Without Company, #2, Kindness Goes Unpunished #3, Another Man's Moccasins #4, and the latest release A Serpent's Tooth #9. I will definitely be going back to read the books in between!