Monday, June 10, 2013

TV vs. Books: A&E's Longmire vs. Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson

The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire #1) by Craig Johnson is the first book of a western mystery series that my husband and I read in tandem while we were on vacation. We both watch and enjoy the A& E television program, Longmire, based on this popular book series and decided that reading the first book was a good idea if we wanted to find the differences and commonalities between the two.

What we found is that unlike the television program which targets western aficionados who love action, mystery and drama, the book series that begins with The Cold Dish is a western mystery that includes all of the above, but that is geared toward, and I feel would be highly enjoyed by, mature adult readers. The primary character Walt Longmire is in his 50's as is his close friend and fellow investigator in many of the crime mysteries, Henry Standing Bear. Additionally many of the secondary characters that populate Walt's life in Wyoming's Absaroka County where the series is set are also mature adults. There is one main character in her 30's, Walt's Under-sheriff Victoria Moretti, and a few secondary characters, including deputies and Walt's daughter Cady. So, if you prefer to read stories with younger central characters this book and series may not be for you.

The mystery in The Cold Dish is excellent and the western atmosphere is flawless! I love Walt as the narrator with his self-deprecating wit and the overall humor that carries the reader through some seriously dangerous action. The close relationship and interactions between Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear provide some of the best moments of the story, as Henry helps Walt navigate personal problems brought about by the death of his wife, but Henry also serves as a sort of liaison between the Sheriff and the Cheyenne reservation when political or human issues arise. Walt's close friendship with Henry keeps him grounded, but it also brings a spirituality and a touch of mysticism to his life that adds much to the series as a whole. Obviously, Henry is a favorite character.
Robert Taylor as Longmire

In comparing the book to the television program, both my husband and I agree that Walt's quick, dry wit and self-deprecating humor is sorely missing from the television program. The TV Longmire is a depressed rough, tough, stoic man who cares deeply for his daughter Cady. He's not charming to others and often looks grim. Yet in the books, although Walt is coming out of a depression after losing his wife to cancer and definitely drinks too much, he is very much admired for his past and present deeds and liked by the town's population. Walt tries to be charming and often uses his sense of humor to win people over. Most importantly, he is ready to move on after having lost his wife four years earlier. Walt's wit and self-doubts make him quite human and the reader connects with this rough and tough man who on the inside is really a marshmallow -- everyone knows that! To me, this character became Walt in the books, a man I would love to know better, but he is the somewhat intimidating Longmire in the show. I think that says a lot.

Katee Sakhoff as Vic
The other difference I found is in how Walt's female deputy Victoria Moretti is portrayed in the show as opposed to the books. In the books, as the series begins, Vic has been working with Walt for two years and they know each other pretty well. She came to Absaroka County from Philadelphia's Police Department when her husband transferred to a new job in the area. She is not really happy to be stuck in the middle of nowhere and the contentious and dying relationship with her husband doesn't help, but that is kept off the pages. Vic is a foul-mouthed intelligent woman, a straight shooter so well-versed in new police procedures and forensics that she basically runs the Sheriff's office for Walt who is old school. Walt wants her to replace him when he retires. She thinks of Walt as her only friend and there is obvious care and affection between the two. I really love how Vic is characterized in The Cold Dish, and the respect and care that exists between her and the other characters in the story. Later on her relationship with Walt grows and moves in unexpected directions, but her direct approach never changes.

On the television program Vic's background is the same. She is still smart but works closer with Walt than in the first book or even in subsequent books, however, she somehow doesn't come off as knowledgeable, and although she is still tough there is a "lightness" about her that is not part of her character in the first book, but that can be found sparingly in some of the other installments. She is a much tougher and rougher character in the books. Additionally, in Longmire Vic plays Walt's partner and seems to spend time trying to set up Walt with women (in other words taking Henry's role), and secretly acting possessive of Longmire. Vic is not secretive, she says what she thinks. I see pieces of the Vic I love in the books in the Vic portrayed on television, but she's definitely not the same.

Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry
Overall, though, both the television program and the books are excellent and recommended. The crime mysteries and western atmosphere are excellent in both, and although I prefer the characterization in the books and the fact that the deep relationship and partnership between Walt and Henry drive many of the plot points with Vic serving as a central secondary character, I think the television program definitely draws viewers for a reason. I enjoy it, even if I find myself looking for those moments when Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) makes a longed for appearance. The Cold Dish I recommend to anyone who loves to read westerns and excellent mysteries. The series is addictive as I soon found out when I found myself reading Death Without Company, #2, Kindness Goes Unpunished #3, Another Man's Moccasins #4, and the latest release A Serpent's Tooth #9. I will definitely be going back to read the books in between!

15 comments:

  1. Great post Hils! I completely agree about the show. I just got caught up on it. Watched the 1st season on Netflix and now have something to look forward to on Monday nights. :)

    Now I need to read the books. Thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. Leslie, someone who shares the love, yay!

      That's exactly what happened to me! I saw a few episodes last season and caught up with the whole first season on Netflix. After reading the books though, I will be watching on Mondays. *g*

      The books are different from the show (extra characters and different, better developed story lines of course although some of them are used, oh and the series is character driven while the stories are driven by the crime mysteries -- interesting), but both are addicting. If you like the show, you will love the books. Try getting them from the library! I bought them for my Kindle since my DH and I are reading the whole series together. :D

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  2. I have enjoyed reading all the Longmire books (just finished the newest one)! I agree that the characterization of Walt is much more charming and multi-dimensional in the books, and can't understand why the TV series would choose to ignore it. Why not stick to the relationships/characterizations from the books? It's disconcerting to know from reading the books that Walt and Vic have an intimate relationship and yet the TV series completely leaves it out. Also why a new character, Branch, instead of the "Basquo" Saizarbitoria? Oh well....

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    1. Mrs. Edwards, we are definitely in agreement! The series would gain much from sticking to the characterization already established by Craig Johnson. In my humble opinion, the characters have much to do with the success of this book series. Walt as the narrator in particular.

      I'm still hoping that the Walt/Vic relationship will be developed in the TV series at some point since this is only the 2nd season. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

      But, the Branch/Cady storyline drives me crazy! I think they based Branch on Turk's character from the first book, but why? Like you, I don't think it was necessary. The Basque deputy adds wonderful diversity to the cast of characters, and he's wonderful in the books! To me Branch/Cady and the other political stuff adds so much unnecessary drama. The mysteries and characters are great enough to carry the TV program!

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  3. I'm reading "The Cold DIsh" is this the basis for season 1?

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    1. I'm loving the book a whole lot. I just want to read the book before I watch the show. Will I be ok to watch season one after I finish the first book?

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    2. Daniel, the show takes artistic license (it is based on the books), so yes, you can read The Cold Dish and watch the first season. They don't follow the main story arc faithfully, but you will recognize the mystery story lines. I happen to enjoy both the show and the books, although I like the books much more -- let me know what you think. :)

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  4. I watched the first episode and liked it, but found the show a bit odd. There are episodes where the crime is solved and the episode just... stops, with no real dénouement. It took a while for the show to really grow on me, but now, at the end of season two, I love it and and impressed with the layers of story and character that they have portrayed. There is a lot going on here.

    I picked up the first book, hoping for more of the same. My first issue was with the first-person narrative. I almost never like that and this is no exception. I also have a much greater empathy for the show's Walt, who deals with grief and feelings of guilt relating to his wife, then the book's jokey version, who hardly seems to miss her so far.

    All-in-all, as much as I often prefer the book version to other media (especially when they came first), in this case I like the show so much that it's making it very hard to enjoy the book.

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    1. Craig, thank you for stopping by and giving us a different perspective on the books vs. the TV show.

      After having read the books, I find that the mysteries are central to book series with the characters personal relationships becoming the key to what drives the reader to continue on to the next book. The television series is different. The mysteries that Walt and his deputies solve in each episode are taken from the books but they are not the focus of the programs, as exciting, or as well-developed. Instead, they are used as a vehicle to highlight the characters' complex lives. The timing (for when the TV program began vs. the book series) is off, so that Walt is still grieving. The screenplays do not follow the books as far as his personal storyline is concerned, and the majority of the complex situations in the program (to do with the reservation vs. Walt etc) are not necessarily what you will find in the books. In that respect, the TV program and the books are two different animals. However, both are highly enjoyable.

      I absolutely agree with you that the second season of the television program was much better than the first. I am thoroughly hooked and can't wait to find out what really happens after the cliffhanger on that last episode.

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    3. I suspect that one reason for the lack of dénouement is the way Netflix releases their series. They cater to binge watchers and, to my understanding, release an entire season in one big thunk. I think, the lack of, "Whew...well... that's over." feeling leads you right on to the next episode. The only ending feeling is at the end of a season. Obviously with books there is a loooonng paaaainful wait until the next one comes out.

      We did not start the tv series until I ran out of every book, novella, short story, and "post it" from the authors website that I could squeeze out of the universe. Without the show, I might to into some kind of dangerous withdrawal.

      But I have one very important question about the show (and don't spoil it for me I'm only on episode 8 of season 2...)
      WHERE.IS.DOG?!???!??!?!?
      (and when are they going to send Branch down a deep, poorly supported mine)

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  5. I discovered Longmire the tv show and watched it in its entirety and really liked it. At the same time, when I discovered the books, I REALLY love them and have just finished the last one, Dry Bones. I am eagerly awaiting the release of An Obvious Fact due out this fall. I too wondered about the differences in the tv show and books.
    The tv series REALLY needs a dog! I suppose it would be too expensive, perhaps, to have a dog in the tv show, but he "echoes" Walt's character and plays a great supporting role (kind of like "silver" in The Lone Ranger).

    I guess the easy answer to the difference between the series is that they add "simpler" one dimensional characters for less involved tv watchers. The original ongoing drama of "who killed Walt's wife" reminded me of The Fugitive. The Branch drama reminded me of "Dallas".
    There is less Native American mysticism too, which is one of my favorite parts of the books.
    Perhaps simpler good and bad guys, fewer set changes, and less need for "trippy" ghost/mountain/spirit scenes just make the tv series cheaper.
    What we need is a REALLY GOOD movie!

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  6. I discovered Longmire the tv show and watched it in its entirety and really liked it. At the same time, when I discovered the books, I REALLY love them and have just finished the last one, Dry Bones. I am eagerly awaiting the release of An Obvious Fact due out this fall. I too wondered about the differences in the tv show and books.
    The tv series REALLY needs a dog! I suppose it would be too expensive, perhaps, to have a dog in the tv show, but he "echoes" Walt's character and plays a great supporting role (kind of like "silver" in The Lone Ranger).

    I guess the easy answer to the difference between the series is that they add "simpler" one dimensional characters for less involved tv watchers. The original ongoing drama of "who killed Walt's wife" reminded me of The Fugitive. The Branch drama reminded me of "Dallas".
    There is less Native American mysticism too, which is one of my favorite parts of the books.
    Perhaps simpler good and bad guys, fewer set changes, and less need for "trippy" ghost/mountain/spirit scenes just make the tv series cheaper.
    What we need is a REALLY GOOD movie!

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  7. well like you've said i watched the season finally and was left empty. The Tv series has gotten to predictable in the last season and has turned me off. I like the first couple of seasons and they seem to had a good story or plot but the last season just didn't seem to answer my questions. I am looking now for the books in order because I like these charactors a lot. Take care can't wait for season 6 if they develop it. Thanks

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  8. We will see how much Abrams and Lindelof are making this season interesting for the American as well as for the world audience.
    http://www.showboxdownloadsapp.com/

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