The Cold Dish: A Longmire Mystery (#1), by Craig Johnson

This is the first volume in the Walt Longmire series of mysteries, now containing thirteen novels as well as some shorter works. These generated a TV series now in its sixth and final season.

It’s an extremely fine book, which doesn’t always happen with a best seller but is a pleasant surprise when it does. Walt Longmire is the sheriff of a fictional Wyoming county with a small population and attached to a nearby reservation. Longmire is a Vietnam vet and lives alone in a cabin that he stopped working on when his wife died of cancer. The department he runs has a small staff of oddball deputies and one that he is fond of and is afraid of losing to a better opportunity. This is Vic, who came from a law enforcement family in New Jersey, was well-trained in her first job, and has followed her husband to Wyoming for his oil engineering work.

The first signs of the first murder begin on page one, and soon into the book it appears that someone is targeting the perpetrators in one of the toughest crimes Longmire has had to deal with, the rape of a young native woman suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome by four local white teens. The first murder victim is one of the teens. The murders are unusual, seemingly shot at long range by an antique single-shot Sharps.

The town has almost too many potential suspects. The native community was outraged that the teens received light sentences, the father of the girl owns a matching rifle, and Walt even begins suspecting his best friend and fellow vet Henry Standing Bear. It doesn’t help that after four years of being a widower Walt is starting to attract attention from some of the local women, including a wealthy local who Walt knew as a teen and even Vic, who’s having trouble with her husband.

It’s a tightly written mystery with terrific action, wonderful humor, and a prolonged winter rescue that is tense while it manages to have overtones of native mysticism. The final reveal is a tragedy in itself and the last part of the book has Longmire hiding out in his cabin and trying to drink his way back to sanity.

This is one of those series that I came to late and I am looking forward to reading more, though I have to say I wonder whether Johnson has been able to maintain this high quality of writing through the whole series. It’s one of those things a person has to find out a book at a time.