The last week or so my wife and I have been binging on the Netflix program, Longmire. We have found it almost addictive as each program leaves the viewer hanging anticipating the next episode. The characters are fascinating as is the Wyoming landscape that is presented. This being the case I thought it would be interesting to see where the mindset for the program derived. It seems the series was the brainchild of the novelist Craig Johnson whose first effort was entitled THE COLD DISH: A LONGMIRE MYSTERY, part of a fifteen book compendium. Johnson has what I would characterize as a soft sarcastic approach to dialogue and writing in general. He sprinkles in the beauty of Wyoming and the intricate relationship between life on an Indian reservation and the town of Durant. The main character is Sheriff Walter Longmire, a cultured man educated at USC and an individual who served in Vietnam. Longmire became a widow three years before the story begins when his wife Martha suffering from cancer was murdered while undergoing chemotherapy in Denver. Longmire comes across as a disheveled man living in a partially completed log cabin on the outskirts of Durant. The people closest to him are his daughter Cady, a lawyer who lives in Philadelphia, and his childhood friend Henry Standing Bear who is Longmire’s link to the reservation and served with Special Forces in Vietnam. A great deal of the socialization that takes place in the novel is centered in the Red Pony tavern which is owned by Henry and the local police station.
Johnson has created an eclectic group of characters as the plot unfolds. His department consists of Deputy Victoria Moretti, a former Philadelphia cop who carries her own personal and professional baggage. Ruby is the lady in charge of the office who runs a very tight ship and at times acts as Longmire’s conscience. Deputy Brian Connally, known as “Turk” has a very dysfunctional relationship with Longmire. Jim Ferguson is the Head of Search and Rescue, and Lucien Connally is the former crusty old sheriff who lives in an assisted living complex who serves at times as Longmire’s alter ego.
Johnson does a wonderful job integrating the native culture and everyday life of the Cheyenne Indian reservation to the reader. The problems of the reservation range from the lack of education, drugs, alcoholism to the constant struggle for survival. The Indian bureaucracy put in place by the US Department of the Interior often comes in conflict with Longmire and his office as the fight against federal control is ever present with the many rules and regulations that exist on the reservation which Longmire navigates like a minefield. Longmire relies on Henry as his guide throughout the plot and is one of the strongest characters that Johnson creates.
The novel opens with Johnson bringing the reader up to date on all the major characters then launches into a scene at the Red Pony when Longmire informs Henry that Cody Pritchard has been found dead amidst a herd of sheep outside of Durant. Pritchard was among a group of four teenagers who four years earlier had raped and sodomized an emotionally challenged Indian girl whose trial split the entire community, white and non-white. When three of the four boys served less than two years, and the fourth received probation and 100 hours of community service, the animosity spilled over. The death four years later brings a number of people to the conclusion that Pritchard, who was the least apologetic over what had been done was murdered in a revenge killing. Later in the novel when another of the boys is killed, Longmire is confronted with a very dangerous case.
Longmire is a loner and still grieves over the death of his wife. He has difficulties establishing and maintaining relationships with others, particularly women. His friends pressure him to seek the companionship of someone, but his awkwardness and guilt over the death of his wife is a stumbling block as he has a habit for saying the wrong thing. Despite these shortcomings Johnson introduces Vonnie Hayes and through their relationship we can see what a tortured individual Longmire has become.
The reader is taken through the wilds of Wyoming as Longmire and Henry seek the killer and it is a very suspenseful journey. As the novel reaches its climax the reader will be stunned with the path that the author takes. Johnson has created the basis for a very effective and entertaining series and the television program along with his novels are well worth the time to experience them.