Craig Johnson's seven novels about Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire are among the most visual in the mystery genre.
Big, sweeping vistas of Big Sky country, from the wide-open plains to the ranches, coupled with complex characters made it tailor-made for TV.
And the new crime series Longmire does not disappoint. Longmire debuts at 10 pm Eastern and Pacific time and 9 pm Central time June 3, on the A&E Network.
Longmire's action is set just before Johnson's first novel, The Cold Dish, began, though future episodes will feature plots from some of the novels.
The series is very much in keeping with the spirit of the novels, although the printed version has more humor than the screen version, at least in the first episodes. Johnson is the series' creative consultant. The author also watched the auditions and gives final approval to scripts.
A series set in the West might seem old-fashioned because, after all, the classic westerns that used to dominate the TV are long gone. The Rifleman, Big Valley, Maverick, etc., are only on cable networks that feature old shows.
While Walt is a frontier sheriff, Longmire is a contemporary western in every sense of the word. (How many cowboys used a French press to make their coffee while sitting around the campfire?)
The Longmire novels have always shown parallels between rural Wyoming and urban cities such as New York. Both regions have their good points, says Longmire in the trailer voiceover, and both have troubles with race, corruption, violence and greed.
Johnson's novels have excelled at showing this universality, and the TV series gracefully picks up this theme.
This is not a Wyoming sheriff version of Walker, Texas Ranger, but rather a more nuanced series that looks into the heart of darkness with complex characters whose motives are often found in various shades of gray.
Longmire is perfectly cast with Australian actor Robert Taylor (The Matrix) as Walt Longmire, exuding the same charisma and calmness that the sheriff exudes. He wears his hat like a shield.
Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck of Battlestar Galactica) also is a good choice for Vic Moretti, Longmire's insightful deputy.
While Lou Diamond Phillips doesn't physically resemble the Standing Bear of the novels, this veteran actor—and a personal favorite—captures the essence of the character.
Longmire is beautifully shot with New Mexico standing in for Absaroka County, Wyoming.
In the first episode, Walt investigates the murder of a high school teacher, the disappearance of a Native American teenager and a mobile brothel.
But the real plot centers on how Walt rebuilds his life and deals with the grief of losing his wife a year ago. He's let himself slip and, as one of his deputies says, "the sheriff hasn't done much in a while."
With the help of his daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman of Smallville), Vic, Standing Bear and the job, Walt has to pick himself up by his bootstraps.
He feels both betrayed but also invigorated when his ambitious deputy Branch Connally (Bailey Chase of Damages) decides to run against him for sheriff.
I hope the TV series Longmire will bring a whole new set of readers to the Longmire novels.
Longmire's debut at 10 pm Eastern and Pacific time and 9 pm Central time June 3, on A&E Network, immediately follows the third season of the crime drama The Glades, which begins at 9 pm.
Photos/A&E Network: Top, Robert Taylor; center, Katee Sackhoff; bottom, Lou Diamond Phillips of Longmire.