If you enjoy mysteries, you should be reading C. J. Box. Do you like westerns? Box should be on your must-read list, given that his books almost single-handedly update the genre. Are you addicted to thrillers? You are probably reading him already. And if you're a serious reader of literary fiction, you should be checking out Box's works as well. Go to a bookstore, a library, or the eBook store of your choice, and read the opening pages of COLD WIND, Box's latest effort. Or take a look at the first sentence: "He set out after breakfast for what would be his last day on earth." I have read entire novels this month that did not contain lines as good as that one.
If you're unfamiliar with Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, you can easily become acquainted with him in COLD WIND, even though the story builds upon what has gone before. Pickett is a straightforward, occasionally bumbling, humble protagonist, described (not inaccurately) by one character as a "Dudley Do-Right." Pickett is unerringly guided by two things: a moral compass and a buena sierra detector. Both are brought into play when Pickett finds Earl Alden, his quasi-father-in-law, murdered on the site of a wind farm development. Alden's wife, Missy --- Pickett's long-time nemesis --- is almost immediately arrested for the murder, and she has all the motive in the world, given that her gold-digging shovel never gets rusty and that Alden was getting ready to file for divorce.
Pickett would just as happily leave Missy as he found Earl --- twisting in the wind --- but something about the entire matter isn't sitting right with him. He is compelled to carry on his own investigation, even as the local sheriff, who is running for re-election, is hell-bent on making the arrest stick. Meanwhile, Pickett's estranged friend, Nate Romanowski, finds past acts, however righteous, coming back to haunt him as he becomes both hunted and hunter in a violent and tragic tableau that is sure to have repercussions for the future, both short-term and long-term.
Box's novels are shot through with straightforward, honest prose that more often than not approaches and surpasses the poetic, particularly in those passages that describe the majestic setting behind and upon which the actions of his characters are carried out. Pickett is as real as it gets. There is one scene --- minor to the story, but very important nonetheless --- in which Pickett buys his wife a present. It is worth reading the book for that one scene alone. Elsewhere, Box, through Pickett, presents as realistic and profound an evaluation of the current love affair with alternative energy sources as one is likely to find anywhere. And the ending? There are actually two --- did I neglect to mention that COLD WIND is part courtroom thriller as well? --- one of which will leave you waiting hungrily, and impatiently, for Box's next effort.
This is the best work yet from an author who continually and unerringly surpasses himself time after time.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 28, 2011