I very much enjoyed reading this short novel, but I am not sure why. I’ve been puzzled before at why I like a series set in Wyoming (usually) about a fish and game warden who loves the great outdoors. The mysteries aren’t that mysterious and the subject-matter (ethics of hunting, land development in the wilderness, or farming wild animals, etc) does not interest me that much. To date, I think the main appeal has been the character of Joe Pickett, who is determined, straight-arrow and a good family man, as well as his wife and two daughters, who as the series continues, develop in personality themselves. Joe always suffers for his principles, but rarely deviates from them, an appealing theme.
Blood Trail, however, leaves me at a crossroads. The basic plot is very simple, even simplistic. An unknown hunter stalks, shoots and kills another hunter, leaving a red poker chip in his mouth and does various other unsavoury things which I won’t dwell on here. Joe is now a “special agent” for the eccentric state governor, which in practice means filling in for absences of other game wardens across the state. He’s finally bought his own house, but feels constrained living on a normal street at the mercy of nosy neighbours, compared with his old state-department house in the forest. The governor adds Joe to the team that is investigating the crime, while Joe’s current enemy and immediate boss, Pope, calls in a famous tracker to help. Despite Pope’s sarcastic and patronising attitude to Joe, Joe and the tracker see eye-to-eye and implement a plan to find the perpetrator; but in rapid succession a series of other shootings occur, leaving everyone devastated.
One of the outcomes of these events is that Joe persuades the governor to release his friend Nate from prison (see the previous novel, Free Fire) so Nate can help track the criminal(s) before the governor is forced to shut down hunting and hence lose the state a lot of revenue. Joe immediately realises, however, that his friend is closer to the crime than he’d thought. Environmental activists seem to be involved, but what is their motive? In one passage of the book, Joe and his 16-year-old daughter Sheridan exchange views about the ethics of hunting, which provides the author with an opportunity to state his position (one assumes) through Joe’s mouth, and have the (mild) opposing arguments, from Sheridan’s, answered.
At the end of the book the crime is solved (not very difficult to guess, partly owing to a dearth of suspects and motives) and everything is up in the air again in preparation for the next novel in the series. And this is what brings me back to the question at the start of this review: why did I enjoy this book despite two “no nos” for me in its ending? The two aspects I hated were the excessive shooting and violence, with Joe tying an involved party to a tree as “bait”, and escalating from there to quite ludicrous levels; and the “proxy” role of Nate, in which Joe keeps his integrity but Nate eliminates anyone nasty that Joe happens to encounter, in this case Joe’s nemesis from the very first book in the series, Open Season. I am sure I’ll carry on reading these novels, as I’m obviously hooked, but the author does not need to indulge in either of these no-nos to create a good story! I wonder if these vigilante and post-plot-ending acts of violence do garner him more readers? I hope not, and I hope he sticks to the essentials next time, rather than indulging in overkill.
My reviews of the previous novels in the series:
Open Season (# 1)
Savage Run (# 2)
Winterkill (# 3)
Trophy Hunt (# 4)
Out of Range (# 5)
In Plain Sight (# 6)
Free Fire (# 7)