This is the eleventh book in the Joe Pickett series. (The first novel featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett was Open Season published in 2001.) Somehow I knew I would like this, but I resisted going back to the earlier books in the series so I could evaluate if it could be read as a standalone. I hope everyone appreciates my sacrifice for the sake of readers of my blog, since as you may know, reading series out of order MAKES ME TOTALLY CRAZY. Or more so, as the case may be.
Joe Pickett is a decent, quiet type (“strong yet silent” as one might say in the personals), who is happily married with three daughters, and who won’t compromise when it comes to carrying out the law (in spite of the contention by other characters that the legal solution is not always the most just solution). Like other game warden characters I’ve encountered in books, Pickett is happiest just being out in the natural habitat where he works, which in Pickett’s case is the big sprawling open land of Wyoming, punctuated by creeks, rivers, and precipitous mountain ranges. Joe is in his mid-forties, slim, wears cowboy clothes, and has a perpetual squint. One envisions a Clint Eastwood kind of guy.
When his mother-in-law is arrested for the murder of her latest (fifth) husband, multi-millionaire developer Earl Alden, Joe’s wife asks him to help exonerate her mother. Because the body was chained to a wind turbine, Joe suspects the murder might be a result of some of those who are against wind farming, and he and his wife Marybeth look into the politics and economics of using wind for energy.
Meanwhile, Joe’s friend Nate Romanowski is in big trouble, being pursued by relentless killers. Tension builds as the threat to Nate increases, and as Joe gets closer to finding the real killer of Earl Alden.
Discussion: Why a game warden, instead of, e.g., a police detective? As Box explains:
“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.”
In short, a game warden is perfect for Wyoming. And this novel by Box has a very Wyoming-esque feel to it. I like game warden procedurals and I liked Joe Pickett a lot.
On the negative side, the author clearly has an agenda and wants to advance the argument that wind farms are not the panaceas they are touted as being; the “mystery” plot line gets second shrift and doesn’t live up to the rather spectacular initial crime scene.
As for whether the book works as a standalone, I would have appreciated two extra paragraphs in the book. Just two. One on what happened a year ago (or, one presumes, in the previous book), which had a big effect on everybodys’ relationships to everybody else but wasn’t exactly clear to me. The other would be a paragraph providing background on Nate Romanowski. Not having those clarifications was not fatal, but still served as a distraction for me.
Evaluation: The Joe Pickett detective series is worth pursuing, especially for the atmospheric sense of Wyoming, and the appeal of the protagonist,
Clint Eastwood Joe Pickett.
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2011