Stone Cold: A Joe Pickett Novel
STONE COLD is the perfect title for the new Joe Pickett novel. In the dead of a harsh Wyoming winter, Pickett, C.J. Box’s competent but hard-luck state game warden, finds himself more alone and in more danger than at any point in recent memory. Pickett is a somewhat contradictory by-the-book maverick, obsessed with doing what is right instead of going along to get along, and frequently doing so at great personal cost. That he has acquired the trust and quasi-friendship of Wyoming’s governor --- a maverick himself --- is a mixed blessing for him, and never more so than in STONE COLD.
This latest installment begins with Pickett being summoned to the governor’s office for what amounts to an undercover assignment. Wolfgang Templeton is a former Wall Street investment mogul who has retired and moved from New York to Wyoming’s remote Black Hills, where he has built an enormous ranch and meat processing facility, revitalizing a dying nearby town in the process. The federal government is vaguely suspicious of Templeton, and the governor, while no fan of the feds, is giving his grudging cooperation to the investigation. Pickett is tasked with going to the northern part of the state to ostensibly assist the game warden there with a relatively innocuous matter while keeping his ear to the ground for anything untoward.
"STONE COLD tells a complete story in one volume, but there are enough loose threads dangling at the conclusion to give one the impression that it is the first half of a longer work."
Things seem peaceful enough when Pickett arrives; it isn’t long, however, before he gets crossways with one of Templeton’s employees, a quietly dangerous man with the look of a stone-cold killer in his eyes. It immediately becomes obvious to Pickett that his presence has made him the object of much resentment, not only from local law enforcement but also from the game warden he is ostensibly assisting. When it becomes quite clear that he is not welcomed in the area, he doubles down on his investigation, exceeding the scope of his mission and further exposing himself to danger. As he digs deeper into Templeton’s activities, he finds two individuals from his own circle of acquaintances, both of whom have the ability --- and possibly the inclination --- to cause him great difficulty.
To add to Pickett’s distractions, there is trouble at home. His oldest daughter may be in danger at her college, while his foster daughter has attracted the attention of a rodeo rider with a questionable past. As Pickett indicates at the conclusion of the book, “(it) never stops.” Indeed.
STONE COLD tells a complete story in one volume, but there are enough loose threads dangling at the conclusion to give one the impression that it is the first half of a longer work. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, particularly given Box’s craftsmanship, which combines equal parts plot and character development layered over the beautiful but eternally dangerous Wyoming landscape. As for Pickett, he remains a plain-spoken everyman, stoic and resolute in the face of adversity, a righteous man in ambiguous times. I can’t wait for the next installment.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 14, 2014