Continuing the story of Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, an upstanding, poorly paid family man, Trophy Hunt is the first of this engaging series to feature a proper mystery. Joe discovers a dead moose while spending a Saturday fishing with his young daughters. The animal’s body has been mutilated, but even more bizarre is that there has been no scavenging predation even though the corpse is several days’ old at least. Joe returns the next day (sans daughters) to take samples for analysis at a couple of independent labs. (Two labs as he’s learnt the hard way in previous books about crucial evidence going astray.)
More animal corpses are found – thankfully, not described in any more detail than necessary – and when a human body turns up with similar injuries, a task force is set up consisting of some characters from previous novels – the unpleasant sheriff, an FBI agent and, of course, Joe, representing “biology”. Joe rapidly finds that most of the other task force members are either uninterested or actively hostile to the investigation, perhaps because of the effect of the deaths on local tourism and other business, so he finds himself the only person who is prepared to investigate the deaths with an unbiased perspective, that is, without assuming that aliens have been at work.
In view of the family’s financial challenges, Marybeth, Joe’s wife, has given up her part-time jobs at the stables and the library, and is reinventing herself as a freelance business adviser. Her main clients are Cam and Marie Logue, a couple who have bought the Saddlestring realtor’s office and have moved into an old house in the woods where Cam grew up. Cam’s family moved away from the region when he was a teenager, so he is pleased to return as an adult with his own wife and young daughter, Jessica. Jessica plays with Joe and Marybeth’s children after school, but the girls make an unpleasant discovery in the woodshed (!).
As with previous novels, Joe is frustrated by the politics and obstruction that goes on around him. All he wants to do is to find out what is causing the deaths and to stop them from happening. Because nobody else on the task force will do much, he ends up investigating various leads and interviewing witnesses in the woods and mountains, sometimes helped by Nate, his falconer friend from the previous novel.
In the sense of identifying the main culprit, the mystery is not a hard one for the reader to solve. But in the process of his efforts, Joe uncovers more than a few grim secrets held by friends, neighbours and other residents. There is a mystical element to this novel which although thankfully limited to hints, I don’t think works as well as the rest of it. Some aspects of the investigation are left unexplained, the reader being left unsure as to whether there may be a down-to-earth explanation or whether ethereal forces are supposed to have been operating. Yet, as with the previous books in the series, Trophy Hunt is a highly readable novel about a real (not romanticised) family and their various small tribulations of daily life, as well as being an involving, knowledgeable account of the natural environment and its preservation, issues that are not presented in a simplistic way, thankfully. I am sure it won’t be long before I am reading the next in this series!
I purchased the hardback US version of this novel.
Corvus (part of Atlantic Books) is publishing the entire Joe Pickett series in the UK during 2011. See here for details. The first novel, Open Season, is already available and the second, Savage Run, is published next month (March). The other novels will follow at monthly intervals thereafter, and will be available as a boxed set at some point. (See this article for further details.)
My reviews of the earlier books in the series:
Open Season (# 1)
Savage Run (# 2)
Winterkill (# 3)