• James McGee

So what have you been reading during lockdown..?


Well, if this bloody virus has given us anything, apart from the fear of stepping out of your own front door, it's been the opportunity to catch up on our reading and maybe a time to experiment with authors we haven't bothered with before.


Don't worry, I'm not gonna wax lyrical on those classics that so far I've managed to avoid - War and Peace, Madame Bovary, The Mill on the Floss, Ulysses etc - as they're still on my to do list, and will probably remain there for all eternity.


No, what I did add to my bookshelf were the Longmire crime novels by Craig Johnson.


Can't recall what made me pick up The Cold Dish, the first in the series. I think it was probably that I just happened to spot the paperback in my local library. That would've been before the world went to hell in a hand basket, and they shut all the libraries down for fear of spreading the plague.



I'd seen episodes of the TV series, starring Robert Taylor as Sheriff Walt Longmire, and Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck in the brilliant remake of Battlestar Galactica) as his deputy, Victoria 'Vic' Moretti, and kind of enjoyed them, although they didn't set my pulse racing. I thought they were watchable in a well-there's-bugger-all-else-on-so-it'll-do-in-a-pinch kind of way, but that was only if I was prepared to endure Channel 5's interminable ad breaks.



But I'm a big fan of American crime and so I guess something about the character and the location - the great state of Wyoming - must have struck a chord, and that made me pick up the book. I'm also a sucker for crime novels written in the first person, so I figured I probably didn't have a lot to lose. Turned out it was something of a revelation.


Because the novels are a world away from the TV show, especially with regards to the main character. Let's face it, in the TV series, he's a miserable old scrote, with absolutely no discernable sense of humour, due mostly to spending a goodly part of his life looking for the killer of his murdered wife. There were, as they say, not a lot of laughs.



In complete contrast to the books, which, due to some great plotting and snappy one-liners, are a joy to read.


Thankfully, the plot of each novel bears absolutely no relation to any of the TV storylines, so there's no treading over old ground. Walt's wife, although still deceased, wasn't murdered for a start. Oops, plot spoiler...sorry.



About the only similarity between the Longmire of the books and the TV version is that he's no spring chicken. From there, the differences do multiply. Robert Taylor's tall but Longmire in the novels is a really big guy. And I do mean really, really big. Imagine Jack Reacher in a sheepskin jacket and a cowboy hat and you get the picture. He's also, it has to be said, more intellectual and savvy than in Robert Taylor's portrayal. Vic's a fair bit different, too - no pun intended - because in the books she's a brunette and a lot more foul-mouthed. Oh, and there's no beating about the bush as regards her feelings for Walt. That's made clear from the very beginning. And the feeling's mutual. So, thankfully, there's no mooning around the houses with the two of them making doe eyes at each other.


The other great character is Walt's pal, Henry Standing Bear, who runs the Red Pony bar. Gotta say that every time he puts in an appearance I do see Lou Diamond Phillips, who played him so well on screen.



Appearances aside, though, it's the humour and the whip-smart rapport between the three main characters that lie at the heart of the books and that's what makes them so readable and sets them apart from the TV show. I've been trying to think of comparisons and I came up with this:


If you're a fan of the late great Robert B Parker's Spenser and love the dialogue in those novels and you think James Lee Burke is the current Godfather of American Crime, you will love Craig Johnson.


So go on, give him a go. What have you got to lose..?