Plot and Narrative of “The Cold Dish” by C. Johnson Essay (Book Review)

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Oct 11th, 2020

The book The Cold Dish written by Craig Johnson belongs to the category of police procedural. The text tells about the life and work of Walter Longmire who is the sheriff of a small provincial town located in Wyoming. He lost his wife a few years ago, and since then he has devoted himself to work. The purpose of this paper is to review this book by Craig Johnson.


Sheriff Longmire griefs the loss of his wife and suffers from the alienation of his daughter. However, the work that he does cannot help him solve his problems. The setting is complicated by the fact that several years ago a Cheyenne girl was sexually assaulted. The murderers were found, but they had received a rather mild punishment for such a terrible crime. The residents blame the sheriff for it, and Walter also feels guilty in the sufferings of the young girl from the reservation. Also, he feels bad that he has been unable to achieve justice. One day, one of the four abusers is found dead. It is supposed that it has been a hunting accident (Johnson 36). However, the man disagrees with this assumption, and it turns out that it has been an act of revenge.

Main Character

Walter is a bright enough character, and it is easy for the reader to sympathize with him because his psychological profile has quite positive characteristics. The sheriff is a calm, honest, and decent man who experiences the bitterness of loss but does not engage in destructive behavior to drown out his feelings. The main hero is admired by the local population. Also, women consider him quite an attractive person (Johnson 83). Nevertheless, he lives alone and misses his daughter whom he calls his “singular ray of sunshine” (Johnson 3). Such an attitude to his grownup daughter reveals him as a loving and sensitive person.

Apart from that, the intense feeling of responsibility is an important trait of this character. In general, he eagerly commits himself to perform his duties; however, apart from his formal liability, he has a personal interest in the residents and his friends, and in everything that happens to them. Importantly, he was frustrated both when the girl from the reservation was raped, and the perpetrators did not receive adequate punishment, and when the killer of Cody Pritchard (one of the abusers) was not found (Johnson 81). He also feels responsible for the death of the second perpetrator because he was unable to find the killer before it happened. Therefore, even though Cody was one of the rapists, Walter considered that justice and safety should always be the top priorities.


The location chosen by the author is Absaroka County. The book reveals quite a lot about the life of Cheyenne Indians and their interaction with the white population. In particular, the Indians were relocated to this area, and they had to experience multiple conflicts with the other culture (Johnson 143). Nevertheless, people residing in this terrain are quite open, and they are not used to locking the doors of their houses. Therefore, the events that are taking place and the killings do not contribute to reducing the distrust among people belonging to different cultures.

Being an intelligent person, the sheriff can observe and comprehend the growing tension between the indigenous people and the white population. Therefore, he feels his responsibility in investigating the case. Importantly, he suspects his best friend (Henry Standing Bear) in the murder and strives for either proving or invalidating this assumption (Johnson 53). Despite this event and the differences in them, Walter respects the cultural identity of his friend. More importantly, in the course of the investigation, he starts appreciating the Cheyenne people more as he realizes their internal force.

Symbolism and Theme

The author makes effective use of symbolism to direct the reader without providing evident clues to the murderer. The eagle feather is one of the symbols that helps both the reader and the investigators to assume that the deaths were not accidental. The feather was a symbol of death, and the killer marked all of the victims similarly to indicate that these murders were connected. Apart from that, the size of nine Vasques boots is another symbol in the book. Since many of the individuals interested in the investigation wore this type of boots and had a similar size, it was possible to assume that the killer had chosen them intentionally (Johnson 186). It was a sign that many locals wanted to take revenge on the perpetrators, and the boots were a summative representation of this intention.

The title of the book also has a symbolic meaning, and it is intertwined with the main theme in the story. The Cold Dish refers to a well-known used phrase about revenge; therefore, from the beginning, the author hints to the audience that the events taking place in the story are linked to this feeling. Notably, it turned out that the killer of the perpetrators was Vonnie who had also experienced a sexual assault when she was a child. She had thought her revenge through and revealed the truth after she had achieved her aim (Johnson 346). Importantly, other residents also felt hurt because the perpetrators did not receive their punishment. Vonnie wanted to revenge both for herself and the Indigenous girl; therefore, she decided to murder the four boys so that the victim did not have to see them.


The book is written in the first person, which does not hinder the reader’s comprehension of the events. The audience can understand what kind of thoughts the sheriff has and can interpret the information that comes from Walt’s experience. The author uses a lot of dialogues to provide the reader with an opportunity to gather the pieces of information about the murders and creates tension as if the reader is present during the investigations. Interestingly, Longmire actively reflects on the process of investigation, the surrounding environment, and other people, which allows the reader to analyze the suspicions he is unwilling to reveal to other heroes (Johnson 74). This form of contact between the reader and the main hero enables the audience to understand his character better and to be present in the setting.


Thus, it can be concluded that the book The Cold Dish has an exciting plot with strong leading characters. The story seems indeed natural, and the form of narration immerses the reader in the atmosphere of the Cheyenne reservation. Through active use of dialogues, the author helps the audience to interpret the setting while multiple symbols push the reader to use both their logic and imagination to uncover the murders. The overall atmosphere is mysterious and tragic but, at the same time, realistic because the reader can sympathize with the characters.

Work Cited

Johnson, Craig. The Cold Dish. Penguin Books, 2012.

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