The Joe Pickett series keeps getting better and better. In this latest novel, which at the time of writing is the most recent title in the whole series, Joe is back in his old job as the game warden for the Saddlestring district of Wyoming. He loves spending time in the open air and mountain trails, though as ever he is conscious that he is not as materially successful as he’d like to be in order to provide for his family – who have just travelled to Laramie to drop the eldest daughter, Sheridan, off for her first semester at college. There is a lot of tension between the remaining daughters, April and Lucy; doubtless things will come to a head with April, who pushes way beyond any boundary going, pretty soon.
This domestic situation is abruptly ended by the shocking discovery of a body that is hanging from the rotors of one of the turbines at a new wind farm in the region. Joe is personally involved in that the victim is Earl Alden, husband of his awful mother-in-law, Missy. At first it was thought the death was a suicide, but before Joe can catch his breath after climbing up the inside of a windmill to view the body, Missy is accused of murder. It turns out that Earl was about to divorce Missy and hence his considerable wealth and ranch would revert to his family rather than to Missy. The case seems bizarre to Joe and his wife MaryBeth, however, because Missy’s partner in crime is alleged to be rancher Bud Longbrake, her previous husband and the man whose land Missy “stole” when she divorced Bud and traded up to marry Earl. Although MaryBeth is under no illusions about her mother, she believes her innocent of the crime and asks Joe to pursue an independent inquiry, given that the sheriff and prosecutor (previously a friend of MaryBeth’s) have made their minds up straight away that Missy is guilty as charged. Joe reluctantly agrees to help, within the constraints of his job.
Joe gets nowhere for a while, and wishes he could find Nate Romanowski, his old friend who lives the survivalist lifestyle in the Hole in the Wall Canyon in his avoidance of the law. Nate, however, is having dreadful problems of his own, as someone is seeking revenge for a deed of Nate’s described in an earlier book. Nate is homeless (or should I write caveless?) and terribly bereaved. The act of violence against him brings him and Joe together, but Nate is more concerned with sorting out his own life than in helping Missy, understandably enough. This journey of Nate’s ends up being a bit of a learning curve for him.
C J Box usually interweaves a scientific issue into his novels, and this one is no exception in its fascinating treatment of the wind turbine business, as the reader comes to see how the Washington trade-offs, the economics and the chancers all operate a massively disingenuous campaign to feather their own nests with empty promises of improving the environment and providing clean energy. From what I know about the technology, the author is spot-on in his dissection of the vested interests and cynical promises involved, and the subplot about the poor farmers who inadvertently ended up selling a tract of land and then having to live on top of a wind farm is moving.
Ultimately, though, this novel is an exiting, tense thriller leading up to the trial of Missy, at which the reader barely knows whether to hope Joe finds some evidence to get her off, or whether to hope that she gets convicted and imprisoned. In the end, there is a twist or two that explains the story and which leaves most of the characters interestingly placed for the next book in the series – which I for one hope will not involve a long wait!
I purchased the Kindle version of this book. The print version is not yet out in the UK but soon will be.
About the book at the author’s website.