Paul Skenazy, The Washington Post
"The Cold Dish is Craig Johnson's debut novel, and it's a winning piece of work. After 24 years as sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming, Walt Longmire is slouching through his days by shuffling papers and downing six-packs of beer. His depression after the death of his wife has become a way of life, down to an unfinished house and a TV that offers more snow than picture. It takes the murder of a young man, memories of an old case, and the attentions of a beautiful old acquaintance to start Walt thinking there is something worth his notice in the world. The death comes first: the body of Cody Pritchard, 21, shot at long range, with an eagle feather to mark the corpse. The memory is of Melissa Little Bird, a young Cheyenne girl with fetal alcohol syndrome, who was raped by four high school boys three years before -- Cody was one of the four who were put on trial and released with a suspended sentence. The woman is Vonnie Hayes, "old school Wyoming" Walt tells us, a sculptor who lives alone on her family's ranch. Longtime friends, Vonnie and Walt find themselves drawn to each other but cautious, their desires tempered by old habits and new crimes: Another boy involved in the rape is killed, with another eagle feather left at the site.
The investigation undergoes odd turns that force the sheriff to take temporary possession of a sacred gun, the Cheyenne Rifle of the Dead; that have him mistrusting even his longtime Cheyenne buddy Henry Standing Bear; that help him realize how dependent he is on the tough-talking Victoria Moretti, a new member of his police team who knows more about forensics than Longmire ever wants to. And the investigation drives Longmire finally to confront himself as he is forced to wander the wilderness through a raging storm.
The Cold Dish -- the title comes from a quotation about revenge -- has its fill of all too traditional players: the good detective turned seedy and defeated warrior, the oddball small town police force, the Native American buddy who provides entrance to the spiritual meaning of it all, the tough young female cop who's soft as butter inside. But the potential clichés are deflected nicely: Henry Standing Bear is as notable for his useless truck and bad jokes as for his soulful commentary; Victoria is as lame at times as she is smart at others. There's a convincing feel to the whole package: a sense that you're viewing this territory through the eyes of someone who knows it as adoring lover and skeptical onlooker at the same time. "
Peggy McMullen, The Oregonian
"...It's the kind of writing that makes you want to read parts out loud, to share things like this: 'It was like falling into an impressionist painting with the snowflake pointillism giving the image a surreal quality. . . .'
Or: 'I pulled my hat down straight and told Ruby that if anybody else called about dead bodies, we had already filled the quota for a Friday and they should call back next week.'
Johnson is a former New York police officer who moved to Wyoming 12 years ago. 'The Cold Dish' is the first in a planned new series. Which is good, because I am already missing Walt's banter and the wild beauty of Absaroka County. "
Tom Walker, The Denver Post
"If it's a fact, as the marketing would have you believe, that Craig Johnson's new novel, "The Cold Dish," is his first, then we in the West could have a major new talent on our hands. Blending a whodunit with echoes of racism, mysticism, friendship, revenge and a healthy dose of wry humor and a terrific sense of place, Johnson, who lives in tiny Ucross, Wyo., delivers a story you can wrap your arms around. Set in Absaroka County in Wyoming, hard against the Big Horn Mountains and abutting the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, "The Cold Dish" features a cast of characters who are familiar yet distinctive enough not to slip into stereotype. It's a rough-and-rugged world, but one that never stoops to parody or to Hollywood's vision of what the West should be. The dialogue is spot-on and, at times, will make you laugh out loud... Walt and Henry remind us of characters who have made other novelists rich and famous, such as Nelson DeMille's wiseacre former cop John Corey and Lee Child's tough and rigid Jack Reacher. With characters like these and writing like this, Johnson is a writer many of us will be keeping an eye on."
Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser series
"Johnson knows the territory, both fictive and geographical, and he tells us about it in prose that crackles. . .a really good book."
Bob Shacochis, author of Easy in the Islands and Swimming in the Volcano
" Believe it, once you read the first few pages of The Cold Dish , you're not putting this book down unless your house is on fire. Craig Johnson does it right, with style, grace, wildfire pace, and a sense of humor that makes you say, 'Yep, that's Wyoming.'"
Buck Brannaman, "The Horse Whisperer" and author of The Faraway Horses and Believe
" Craig Johnson has a way with words. He paints a vivid picture through which I recognize the beauty of the western landscape and the people who live and work there. He keeps you curious and intrigued to the last page."
Dan O'Brien, author of The Indian Agent and The Contract Surgeon
"I loved The Cold Dish. Finally, a real western detective. Craig Johnson is an authentic voice from the wilderness. He has created characters that live on the page and will live in the reader's mind. For an authentic taste of the modern Northern Plains, read The Cold Dish . It is a book with a long life ahead of it, and Johnson is a writer with many more books ahead of him."
"Revenge killings disrupt the serenity a small western community and gravely complicate life for a sheriff nearing retirement. Kent Haruf's readers will feel immediately comfortable in newcomer Johnson's Absaroka County. Everybody in the beautiful, isolated Wyoming area knows each other. Conversations are spare and, if not always irony-free, certainly lacking coastal self-pity, analysis, or politics. And the inhabitants are smart enough to handle their own business, even when that business is murder and the clues are few. Responsibility for solutions rests in the broad hands of Sheriff Walt Longmire, Vietnam Marine veteran and widower, overweight, and excessively fond of beer. The victims are two of the four local high-school boys who got off way too lightly for the rape of and assault on Melissa Little Bird, a mentally disabled Cheyenne girl. Longmire realizes after the first murder that if his plan to name his successor is to succeed--unlikely enough even before the murders, since his fondest wish is to pass the badge to Deputy Victoria Moretti, a foul-mouthed but extremely capable Philadelphian--he's going to have to solve things before the state police muscle in. Considerable assistance with the police work comes to Walt from Cheyenne publican Henry Standing Bear, the sheriff's best friend and also a Vietnam vet. Henry is Walt's Virgil as the sheriff steps onto the local reservation. Melissa had many friends and a large family, and feelings ran high after the rape. Bullets at the crime scene seem to have come from an elegant 19th-century rifle like the one owned by Melissa's father. Moving
carefully. . ., Walt reconstructs crime scenes and picks through lab analyses, but the sparse clues are slow to yield their truths. Indian spirits step in to help, but they don't solve the puzzle. Walt does. . . .Johnson's gorgeous Wyoming and agreeable characters make the trip very, very pleasant."