The Cold Dish

It took me a while to read this book, but that’s only because I’ve been so busy. Otherwise it would have taken maybe a day, as I am completely in love with it.

This is another book I got at Hastings, when I was down in Louisiana at my SFAM’s house. I hadn’t heard of the series before, but was attracted to it because it looked like it would have a cowboy sort of story, but it’s in Wyoming, so it wouldn’t be super hot (I don’t like books or movies that are set in hot climates, with a few exceptions) and it was a mystery series with a bunch of books out already (eight). And, if I’m honest, I loved the cover art.

Walt is the sheriff of Abrasoka County, Wyoming. He’s been a widower for a few years now, living in a piece-of-shit trailer out in the county – he and his wife sold their house in town and were planning to build when she died. He mostly loves being a sherif, and is nearing retirement. His plan at the moment is to stick it out a little longer so he can put his heir apparent, Victoria, a smart-mouthed transplant from Philly, in place when he leaves.

Walt is haunted by a case from a couple of years ago. Four white boys lured an Indian girl with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome into a basement and assaulted her. Walt spends more time than his staff thinks is healthy brooding over the Little Bird case, not able to shake the notion that he could have done something better.

Then Cody Pritchard, possibly the worse offender from that old case, shows up dead. Is it an accident or is someone taking revenge? Will the other three boys be next? And is Walt’s best friend, Henry Standing Bear, Melissa Little Bird’s uncle, the one behind it all?

Walt is a great character. There’s an archetype, with these detective stories, of a hard-boiled, un-fixably damaged detective (hi, Harry Hole) who has managed somehow to fuck up his life and alienate every one around him so completely that the job is all that he has left. Walt is not that. His life is not going great, it’s true, but he loves his kid, and Henry, and his job. His staff loves him and thinks of him highly. He’s funny and tough, smart and brave. It was nothing short of a delight to read about him.

The mystery unfolds itself in a procedural way, as Walt and Vic work through all of the possibilities. There’s a large cast of supporting characters in the town and on the Rez, and I hope they’ll be back in future installments. Johnson did an extremely solid job creating a whole world and sense of place. The characters all fit in the world, and the world seems fully populated and more real because of it.

I want to say more about some of the characters, but I don’t want to give anything away! If you love mysteries, give Walt a try.

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