(11. – 643.) Winterkill by C.J. Box – Having just read The Dragon Man where the mystery is set in Australia in the midst of a Christmas heat wave it was by accident that my next book occurs at Christmas time in Wyoming with a vicious snowstorm shutting life down in Saddlestring. There could have been no greater Christmas weather contrasts.
Once again Box creates a dramatic opening that grabs a reader. Game warden Joe Pickett is having a quiet afternoon near the end of elk season when suddenly a hunter starts shooting a herd of elk. By the time the firing ceases 7 elk are dead. To his astonishment the wanton hunter is Lamar Gardiner, the district supervisor for the local national forest. After arresting Gardiner there is another embarrassing moment for Pickett reminiscent of the first book, Open Season. Gardiner escapes from Joe in the midst of the forest. The frustrated Pickett is shocked when he finds the supervisor dying, pined to a tree by a pair of arrows and his throat slashed.
Pickett gets Gardiner to town but the investigation cannot commence because of the snow and wind of the winter storm. You learn to respect the power of nature if you have been out in a true blizzard.
Pickett’s daughters Sheridan, April and Lucy are delighted to have their father forced to stay home with them because of the storm. With no outside distractions the girls and Joe have a great time. His enthusiasm is tempered because his mother-in-law, Missy, is equally storm stayed with the Pickett family. Their relationship is generally polite.
Unlike the grim Christmas dynamics of the Australian families in The Dragon Man there is a happy Christmas in Wyoming with the Pickett family enjoying a wonderful Christmas Day.
While Pickett tries to help in the murder investigation life becomes more complicated for the family when April’s birth mother, Jeannie Keeley, returns with a group of survivalists and other Western American outcasts to camp in the local forest. She wants April back.
The campers become known as the Sovereigns because of their view on the rights they believe they are entitled to under the American constitution.
Adding to the volatile mix is Melinda Strickland, an official with the Federal Forest Services, who is determined to prove local citizens are conspiring to attack federal administrators.
When Nate Romanowski is arrested for the murder of Gardiner he calls Pickett instead of a lawyer thinking his best chance for freedom is to have the local game warden search for the real killer.
Box creates a story that rushes forward to its conclusion. I enjoyed the interplay of Pickett’s personal and professional lives. It remained for me a very good rather than great book because some of the key characters, unlike the Picketts, remained one dimensional.
The demanding Wyoming winter and landscape play a central role through the book. I love how Box makes the setting an integral part of his books.
I will keep reading the series. No one writes more dramatic openings than Box.
As an aside, Romanowski has the ultimate American handgun, a .454 Casull revolver manufactured in Wyoming that is the most powerful handgun in the world. With a 7” barrel it is more of a mini canon. (Feb. 27/12)