The push to develop wind energy in the West blows in money and murder in Wyoming author C.J. Box’s latest Joe Pickett mystery, “Cold Wind.”
The book’s initial chapters lay out an average morning in the field for Wyoming game warden Pickett and the previous morning ride of his latest father-in-law, wealthy media mogul/wind farmer Earl Alden.
The author creates images familiar to many in the area — the pines, the hills, family issues such as Pickett’s financial struggles and his mixed emotions at sending his eldest daughter off to college for the first time. Box’s skill in portraying everyday life in the West provides a strong, relatable base for Pickett and his other characters.
The ordinariness grounds the novels and makes subsequent action all the more explosive.
Box is know for his ability to write fast-paced, dramatic action. And the fuse is lighted as Pickett is called on to locate Earl, who is missing from his peaceful ride the day before.
What the warden finds is as startling as cresting a mountain to see row after row of Earl’s giant windmills breaking the silence with their whomph, whomph, whomphing. That discordant vision is even more out of place as Pickett spies Earl’s body flopping from the blades of one of the wind machines.
Before long, Pickett is forced to come to rescue of gold-digging mother-in-law Missy, who has made his life miserable through 11 books in the series and who is now charged in Earl’s demise.
Could she really be that scheming and greedy? Pickett fans will quickly answer yes, yes.
Knowing the sheriff would delight in Pickett’s torment, the warden starts his own investigation
of the case.
He finds plenty of reason for Missy to be at fault, but could she really hatch a murder plot in which she clearly would need assistance?
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Pickett’s exploration of Earl leads to plenty of motives for others to kill.
Box juggles multiple plot lines as Pickett hopes to find his longtime friend — since alienated and a fugitive — Nate Romanowski to help the investigation.
Nate has his own problems as killers and the law are on his trail. Some of the most moving and frightening parts of the book involve Nate’s love story with an American Indian woman.
Box shines in his portrayal of that character and his appreciation for the Native culture and social issues.
His ability to get to heart of issues affecting the West is solid as readers look at wealth and energy development.
Wind power could be cause for Earl’s murder, and Box explores questions of development rights and subsidies as well as eminent domain — an issue that caused an unresolved tangle in Wyoming’s just-completed legislative session.
With all the intensity, the author still weaves in humor with Pickett’s human errors, the whacked-out druggies hunting Nate and Missy’s towering lawyer Marcus Hand, who has echoes of the real, larger-than-life lawyer Gerry Spence.
Longtime followers of Pickett’s exploits will enjoy the references to previous books and characters. But those new to the series should dive in and get acquainted with the warden.
Reading “Cold Wind” may be just the inspiration that they need to seek out the earlier books and start from the series’ beginning to revel in Box’s mastery of his genre.
And fans won’t have to wait long to see even more from Box. The winner of the Edgar Award for mysteries and the French Prix Calibre.38 has another novel, “Back of Beyond,” that’s not part of the Pickett series but is coming out in August.