Book review: Cold Wind by C J Box

Cold Wind
by C J Box (Joe Pickett #11)
Corvus, 2011

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.

Other reviews of Cold Wind are at: Bookreporter, the Washington Post,and Kevin’s Corner,

About the book at the author’s website.

Read my reviews of all the Joe Pickett series.

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Book review: Nowhere to Run by C J Box

Nowhere to Run (Joe Pickett #10)
C J Box
Berkley Prime Crime 2011, first published 2010.

In the tenth novel in the series about Joe Pickett, Wyoming game warden, Joe is finishing his year’s secondment in Baggs. His last task before he returns to MaryBeth and his daughters is to check out some disturbing reports of vandalism from the mountain wilderness. In the first section of the book, Joe scouts the countryside with his two horses, eventually coming across two brothers who are living wild off the land. Their encounter is not a friendly one, but Joe escapes to a remote cabin whose inhabitant, a woman, provides him with brief protection. Seriously wounded, Joe eventually makes it back to civilisation and hospital, where he soon finds that his accounts of what he found are not believed by the various law-enforcement agencies concerned. Once again, Joe is treated with a degree of scepticism bordering in some cases on contempt.
He has MaryBeth, however, and the second section of the book focuses on the family’s life in Saddlestring. There are many teenage tensions between the girls; as well as being out of his depth in this area, Joe focuses on doing domestic chores in preparation for a hoped-for move back into the countryside now that MaryBeth’s business has been sold for a reasonable profit. During this period, Joe becomes reacquainted with an old friend as well as encountering a desperate couple who have reasons to want Joe to return to the scene of his mountain adventure – hence setting up the third and final part of the novel.
Nowhere to Run is more small-scale than the previous, somewhat over-the-top book, Below Zero. It’s all the better for that. With its mix of lyrical description of the woods and mountains of this natural wilderness, and its examination of a range of attitudes to property, freedom and the rights of the individual vs the State, Nowhere to Run delivers a thought-provoking yet entertaining read that does not oversimplify the moral dilemmas faced by Joe or his friends.
I’m now almost up to date with this series, as the latest installment, Cold Wind (# 11), is only just published in hardback. Reading these books has been a very absorbing and interesting experience; one which I’m sure I shall continue as new titles are published. The novels hark back to the times of the classic American cowboy Shane, when life was tough but values were simpler and simply resolved. These solutions cannot always apply nowadays, and C J Box nicely brings out the tension of traditional against modern values, while never forgetting that he’s writing mystery books, and writing about a family facing the same emotional and practical issues as many of us, as children grow up and money becomes in ever-more short supply.

I purchased my copy of this book.

Read my reviews of the entire Joe Pickett series here.
About the author and his books at his UK publisher, Corvus.
About Nowhere to Run at the author’s website.
Nowhere to Run has been reviewed at: Spinetingler, Kirkus reviews and Bookreporter.

Book Review: Below Zero by C J Box

Below Zero by C J Box
Joe Pickett #9

Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, here in his ninth outing, is still freelancing for the eccentric state governor Rulon. He’s in the process of rescuing a wounded eagle and catching the couple of petty criminals responsible for shooting it when he gets a call from his wife Marybeth. Her news is shocking – April, the Pickett’s adopted daughter who was killed in a misguided FBI operation six years ago, has apparently contacted Sheridan, the couple’s oldest daughter, on her cellphone. Could April really still be alive?

Plagued with guilt about his (blameless, in fact) role in April’s death, described in Winterkill, Joe immediately asks the governor for leave of absence while he attempts to track down the caller. He’s quite severely limited by the mores of teenagerdom, however, because April, if it is indeed her, will communicate only with the 17-year-old Sheridan, and only by text message as she claims to be in a situation where it is too dangerous for her phone to ring.

Joe begins to pin down both the location of the girl and to find out more about the situation she is in (which the reader knows more about than he does, and which is certainly precarious). I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but a couple of nutcase-whackos who are determined to reduce the global carbon-dioxide budget off their own bats are at the core of the plot. This motivation and the actions it inspires are too bizarre for me to find very interesting – though in the USA nothing is too mad to be true, I suppose.

As usual with this strong series, there are plenty of redeeming factors: the domestic elements are very strongly depicted- the family relationships involving April are particularly poignant. And the author has plenty of pithily conveyed observations about the terrible effects on children when parents or guardians are utterly irresponsible as well as being members of an extremist-survivalist cult, a double-whammy for poor April six years ago and part of the reason for Joe and Marybeth’s lasting guilt about her.

Below Zero, as with the previous novels in this series, is a compelling read, particularly if you have been following Joe’s earlier travails. The author is adept at providing sufficient variation in each novel to avoid bland formula, while building on previous events to create a believable world in which we care about what happens next to Joe, Marybeth and their daughters. He’s also solid on not providing easy answers to the dilemmas he proposes, whether personal, political or social. I’m hanging on in there for the next instalment(s).

I purchased this novel, published in paperback in the USA by Berkley crime in 2010. Corvus is publishing the entire Joe Pickett series in the UK during 2011 (see announcement at Crime Time).

About this book at the author’s website (providing more details about the plot than I do here), with excerpts from reviews. Read full reviews of this book at: Spinetingler (brief); Gregg’s Stuph-n-Junk (good review despite title of blog!); and Bookreporter.com.

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)

Blood Trail (# 8 )

Book review: Blood Trail by C J Box

Blood Trail by C J Box
(Joe Pickett #8)

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.

I purchased this novel, published in paperback in the USA by Berkley crime in 2009. Corvus is publishing the entire Joe Pickett series in the UK during 2011 (see announcement at Crime Time).

About the book, including excerpts from reviews, at the author’s website. Other reviews of this novel are at: Jen’s book thoughts, Blogger news network and Bookreporter.

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)

Free Fire by C J Box

I’ve just finished another Joe Pickett novel by C J Box. I apologise for the somewhat monotonic run of book reviews just at the moment – I am reading books by other authors but either am reviewing them for Euro Crime or not reviewing them (before this latest C J Box I read the whopping Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope, a marvellously perceptive novel but I feel an amateur review from me of a classic novel would be somewhat pointless). So, here are my thoughts on Free Fire.

The seventh novel about outdoorsman Joe Pickett and his family is the first in which he is not a game warden employed by the Wyoming fish and wildlife service. Joe is honest, unpolitical, and hardworking – hence deeply unpopular with institutional types, not least his bosses, so has ended up without a job. He’s on the radar of the state’s extremely eccentric Governor Rulon, who at the start of this novel offers Joe temporary re-employment if Joe will go as his secret representative to Yellowstone Park to look into a bizarre two-year-old murder case that has recently come back to public attention owing to the release from jail of the presumed perpetrator. Joe reluctantly accepts the offer, partly as his only other option is to continue working as head ranch hand for his mother-in-law’s husband, and partly because he is drawn to return to Yellowstone for reasons that are later made apparent to the reader.

This plot is a dual refreshment for the series, both in taking Joe out of his usual stamping ground of Saddlestring, and in giving him a different job than his usual one of ensuring wildlife regulations are kept. This naturalistic author’s main strengths are in his depiction of Joe’s family dynamics (his wife MaryBeth, an increasingly successful businesswoman, and his rapidly growing-up daughters); and in his mastery of his location. Free Fire is, I think, particularly strong in this last respect. At its core, the author is deeply in love with all aspects of Yellowstone, and succeeds in pulling the reader in to share his enthusiasm and knowledge of the park’s natural history, management, landscape and ominous geology – not an easy task to provide as much detail without being pedagogical, but here it works. The plotting is well-paced and satisfyingly convoluted, though some threads are started but abandoned for no obvious reason.

Most long-running series that I have read come at some point to providing back story for the protagonist(s). Joe is a laconic, even taciturn, individual, so it perhaps is not surprising that we have not learnt anything about his past until this book. Here, the author uses the shift of location to Yellowstone to provide a trigger for Joe’s memories of his many childhood days spent there, and the events that explain much about Joe’s adult persona and attitudes. I felt that Free Fire shifts this series into a different gear, and is a more rounded novel than some of the earlier ones, particularly in its inclusion of sophisticated science, technology and legal issues into the environmental-political themes that are the norm for the series. The novel ends with a resolution of sorts to Joe’s investigation that may bring him wider recognition – but on the other hand probably won’t as the more media-savvy and politically devious layers of command above him move in on his findings. It also ends well-poised for more development in future, as we still don’t know in which direction Joe’s career is moving, although we do know that by the end of Free Fire he has a desperate personal mission to accomplish!

I have not provided a plot summary of Free Fire in this review, but there is a good one at the author’s website, which also links to many independent reviews of the novel. You can also read about Joe Pickett at the author’s website.

I purchased this novel, published in paperback in the USA by Berkley crime in 2008. Corvus is publishing the entire Joe Pickett series in the UK during 2011 (see announcement at Crime Time).

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)

In Plain Sight by C J Box


The sixth Joe Pickett novel is a grim affair, which starts with Joe falling even lower in the estimation of his superiors and the bureaucracy of the US Forest and Wildlife Service, a situation which has arisen due to various changes at the top. Not only that, but the local election for sherriff, which Joe had thought could only result in an improvement on the despotic Barnum, has also made his situation worse, given the person who is now in charge. Increasingly reduced to behaving as a cog in a machine, having to gain permission from his supervisor for every action and having been assigned a truck that constantly breaks down so he can’t do even the basics of his job properly, Joe is at the end of his tether.
The plot of In Plain Sight is driven by a baddie called John Wayne Keeley, who seeks Joe to obtain revenge for a death in a previous novel – a death that was the opposite of Joe’s fault in fact. Keeley is of the blackest black, which as is so often the case renders the story less interesting. As well as suffering his immediate problems, Joe has dealings with the overbearing, feuding Scarlett family, who own a vast ranch and who regard themselves as the direct descendants of the founding fathers of Saddlestring. Joe’s daughter Sheridan is friends with Julie Scarlett, and it is a girls’ sleepover that provides Joe with the means to work out why things are going so wrong for him, and who is responsible.
In Plain Sight is not of the high standard of the previous novels in this series as well as being colder than them: Joe is a more taciturn, less sympathetic character now, having lost his essential optimism, and crosses a couple of lines that he would not have done previously. It does, however, leave the series in an interesting balance, as most of the previous certainties are now most definitely uncertain. It remains to be seen (by me) whether the author will carry through to address new horizons in the next installments, or if he will follow up on a hint in the shape of a brief interaction between Joe and a potentially powerful political ally, which could lead to a return to business as usual in future.

I purchased the Kindle edition of this novel, which was first published in 2006 by Berkley. All the Joe Pickett series is being published this year in the UK by Corvus.

My reviews of the previous novels in the series:

Open Season (# 1)

Savage Run (# 2)

Winterkill (# 3)

Trophy Hunt (# 4)

Out of Range (# 5)

Out of Range by C J Box


I read the fifth Joe Pickett novel in between two by Anthony Trollope – the Trollopes are very long; the Joe Pickett books are short, only taking a couple of hours each to read.

Out of Range takes Joe away from Saddlestring to the larger Jackson, a centre for tourism in the region, with white-water rafting and other sporting activities, in contrast to the much more local beat with which Joe is familiar. Jackson’s game warden has committed suicide, much to Joe’s distress as the man was a friend, and Joe is asked to help out in the aftermath. Joe’s supervisor, Trey, drives with him over the mountains to the secondment, but the two men are sidetracked by the need to hunt down a rogue bear. This prologue is rather a long and disconnected section of the novel and I’m not sure of its purpose, other than to re-emphasise Joe’s reluctance to shoot anything.
Once in Jackson, Joe discovers that he’s looked-down on as a country hick by most of his new colleagues and the people he has to deal with: law-enforcement officers, property developers, tourist guides, landowners and a representative of the “real meat” movement, in which people who were once vegetarians have now moved up or down (depending on your viewpoint!) to eating meat so long as they know the animal concerned and can ensure it has not been polluted by any modern farming treatments. There’s big money in this, and Joe is plunged into being pressured to complete the permit application for a huge area of forest for these animals to live. Joe’s concern is for the natural wildlife of the region, and whether elk, moose and other indigenous animals will be free to roam along their usual migration paths if the new “farm” is built.
Not only does Joe face this problem, but he’s not popular with the local sheriff, either, who has been pre-alerted by Joe’s previous nemesis, Sheriff Barnum of Saddlestring, that Joe is likely to want to investigate the warden’s death. Despite being warned off, Joe isn’t convinced that the death was a suicide, so begins to ask around.
In parallel with this plot, Marybeth, Joe’s wife, is struggling back at the family’s meagre home. She is resentful at Joe for leaving her to look after everything, and is soon embroiled in trying to deal with locals who need Joe’s services (as Joe’s temporary replacement has not shown up), and with a person who keeps calling the house and hanging up. Eventually, she calls on Nate, Joe’s falconer friend, to help – with mixed results that move the series on.
I am pleased that the author is keeping the series fresh by trying out new themes, rather than repeating the successful formula of previous novels. Although I don’t think Out of Range is the best Joe Pickett novel to date, it is nevertheless a diverting read – as usual, becoming darker than one might at first think as the pages turn.

I purchased the US mass-market edition of this novel. All the Joe Pickett series is being published this year in the UK by Corvus.
My reviews of the previous novels in the series:
Open Season (# 1)

Savage Run (# 2)

Winterkill (# 3)

Trophy Hunt (# 4)

Book review: Trophy Hunt by C J Box

Trophy Hunt by C J Box
(Joe Pickett #4)

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)

Winterkill by C J Box


Continuing my reading of this series set in the forests of Wyoming’s Rocky Mountains, I confess myself completely charmed despite a total lack of interest in hunting, fishing and trekking through forests. Joe Pickett is a game warden – as described by the author, C J Box:

Game wardens are unique because they can legitimately be involved in just about every major event or situation that involves the outdoors and the rough edges of the rural new west. They’re trained and armed law enforcement officers, and nearly every human they encounter in the field is armed, which is unique. Often, they’re too far from town to call backup in an emergency so they’re forced to deal with situations with their experience, weapons, and wits. Their districts can encompass 5,000 square miles of rough country filled with wildlife, history, schemes, and secrets. By necessity, they’re lone wolves.

The first three novels have contained some recurring, strong themes: the beauty of the country, as seen through Joe’s eyes – unsentimentally but with complete appreciation; Joe’s family life – he is married to Marybeth and they have three children as well as often having Marybeth’s difficult mother to stay; and the tensions Joe feels as he strives to uphold the law that makes the forest environment and wildlife sustainable while having to live in a local community of hunters, fishers and strong individualists who have moved to the remote hamlet of Saddlestring, often to get away from the excessive interference (as they see it) of the authorities, so not of a helpful temperament from Joe’s perspective.

The character of Joe Pickett is, in a way, the antithesis of many modern literary protagonists. He’s happily married with a growing family of daughters. He does not arrive with excess emotional baggage, or a dark past that haunts him. He works hard and tries, sincerely, to “do the right thing.” He doesn’t talk much. He’s a lousy shot. He’s human, and real, which means he sometimes screws up.

In Winterkill, there is not much mystery about a crime which Joe stumbles across during the course of his duties. His boss at the US Forest and Fishery service goes apparently mad, shooting up a herd of wild elk – but is himself killed before Joe can take him into custody. The case is taken over by the cardboard Marianne Strickland, a 100 per cent bad bureaucrat who arrives with her own little dogs and tame “lifestyle” journalist in tow. Strickland is in charge of investigating anti-government conspiracies, which with her preconceived notions she sees everywhere. While Joe is paying a sympathy call to the new widow, and before anyone can catch their breath, Strickland identifies and jails a local survivalist and falconer, Nate, for the crime, seemingly entirely on the basis of Nate’s lifestyle. Of the posse who arrested him, Nate identifies Joe as the only decent person (i.e. he did not beat him up and destroy his possessions), eventually managing to convince Joe he is probably innocent and to help him (and feed his birds).

The other main thread of this novel concerns April, the young girl whom the Picketts took in at the end of the first novel and who is by now a daughter to them. Here, April’s mother has returned to the area as part of a convoy of survivalists and refugees (some from Waco and Ruby Ridge) who camp illegally in the forest. Joe and Marybeth have to give up April, they hope temporarily, stepping up their long legal battle to adopt her. Strickland, in the meantime, sees the campers as an ideal target and decides to use another forest crime as an excuse to attack them. Joe is on a race against time to find the real criminal(s) before this happens, not only because he sympathises with parts of the campers’ predicament but also for April’s sake.

It’s a sad story, the author using it to highlight his concerns about federal government shortcomings and institutionalised bureaucracies, as well as the painful struggles of the adoption process that hardly put the child’s best interests first. There is also the usual theme of Joe standing up for what is right with very little support from any of the townspeople, let alone the sheriff, a man with whom Joe has scores to settle. Some of the novel is a bit clunky, such as when Nate tells Joe the history of Strickland and her even more evil sidekick, but the story flows well and is both exciting and affecting.

These novels are unpretentious and direct, displaying real humanity and conscience. They are extremely easy and effortless to read, yet they are dark (darker than the reader might anticipate at the start). I do find they justify the use of force as a solution too much for my taste (or in other books, contain unnecessarily protracted violence) but overwhelmingly I highly recommend this series as an impressive mixture of realistically lived lives, personal integrity and a beautifully conveyed sense of “place”.

(I purchased this book, first published in 2003, in Kindle format.)

Author website, including information about the Joe Pickett series.

Other reviews of Winterkill are at: Book Reporter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, USA Today.

My reviews of the first two novels in the Joe Pickett series, Open Season and Savage Run.

Savage Run by C J Box


The second novel about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett not only meets the standard of the first, Open Season, but exceeds it. This series is shaping up to be highly readable. Savage Run has a simpler, leaner plot, without an element of “whodunnit” suspense, and without Joe’s children taking centre stage. The theme is (again) environmentalists versus ranchers/landowners, this time the environmentalists concerned are those who create a lot of publicity for their cause by breaking the law or protesting volubly. One of them, for example, attempts to fly a plane full of wolves from Canada to Wyoming, in order to reintroduce these animals into their “natural environment”.

The author does not take sides, though his evident love for the land and its natural resources are very clear, and represented by his simple, direct hero Joe. Joe is perpetually torn between his instinctive sympathy for those in his community who are increasingly struggling to make ends meet as the land is bought out by rich corporations or magnates, and his strong disapproval of those who break the law he is employed to enforce, for example by hunting or fishing out of season.

In Savage Run, extremist environmentalists are being ruthlessly targeted in various parts of the country. Joe and one of them, an entertaining (though initially irritating) character who turns out to have a previous friendship with Joe’s wife Marybeth, find themselves in an unlikely alliance, being pursued across the ravines and mountains by an adversary who seems to be a reincarnation of the legendary Tom Horn. Unfortunately there is some violence, but toned down compared with the first novel – I hope the start of a trend.

I found this novel to be pleasantly engaging, telling a good story in an undemanding fashion. I liked the moral message and the small but important domestic dilemmas that Joe, a rather serious-minded character, constantly faces. His struggle to become accepted by the community in which he lives seems to be destined to failure, given his policing role – which he carries out with an assiduousness not shared by the sheriff or with other authority figures.

I purchased the US mass market edition of this novel. It was first published in the USA in 2002, and is being published in the UK later this year by Corvus, together with the other novels in the series.

Reviews of Savage Run are at: Allreaders.com (Harriet Klausner), Cat’s Meow Book Nook (!) and The Best Reviews.

My review of Open Season, the first in this series.

Author’s website.