I don’t think I have ever read a western before. At the mention of western my mind immediately goes to (went to) cowboy and Indian stories, stage coach robberies, and car chases except with horses instead of cars - not historically my cup of tea. But western is is one of the the genres in the Literary Exploration challenge (which I am slowly but surely completing), so it was time to give the genre a try. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to a shoot ‘em up at the O.K. Corral so I did some research with the hope of finding something else, and found Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish.
The plot starts out simple enough. Four teenage boys rape a mentally challenged Cheyenne girl. They were caught, convicted, and spent more time on parole than in jail. Fast forward to present day and one of the rapists, long since out of jail, ends up dead. Maybe the murder is related to rape, maybe not – that’s the first question Sheriff Walt Longmire must answer. If it is related to the rape, then Longmire has to protect three boys he can barely stomach looking at.
The Cold Dish felt a little like a cheat because it is a western mystery (I was suppose to read a western remember), which got me thinking, what makes a western a western? Is it setting and landscape, or is there more to it than that? The Cold Dish is set in contemporary times amidst a rural backdrop. There are no cowboys but there are Native Americans, Cheyenne to be exact. Absaroka County, the fictional county where Longmire is sheriff, is clearly not a city or middle class suburbia. People are not squeezed into apartments or houses that are mere inches from their neighbors, but are spread out on ranches and trailers. People have land, not just a house. Despite being spread out people tend to know most everybody else and their business.
I liked The Cold Dish but then it is a mystery so there was always a good chance that would happen. It had many of the hallmarks of a good mystery and good story generally. The characters are well drawn and interesting. There was tension and a genuine mystery. I was surprised by how the mystery was resolved. What was new to me was the rural Wyoming setting, which was definitely a refreshing change from the gritty streets of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Beyond the setting, I'm still not sure what makes a western a western. I did like this enough to not only try another book in the series, but to also try more westerns. Next time I think I'll for something classic, like Lonesome Dove.