Having tried “Blue Heaven” and quitting after fifty pages because I absolutely hated it despite the glowing praise from others, I was thrilled to have this one come in at my local library. I have been a big fan of the exploits of Game Warden Joe Pickett for some time despite events such as author C.J. Box killing off Pickett’s foster daughter in one novel. Despite the fact that I was so upset by that novel that I nearly swore off reading anything written by C. J. Box ever again, I came crawling back and stayed with him. The latest one reminds me of that past in a small way but overall the read is another good one featuring Joe Pickett.
Things have changed over the series and as this novel opens, Joe and his family now live in the town of Saddlestring, Wyoming. Instead of the quiet of his old home where he saw deer cross the meadows surrounding his state owned home, or the ranch where his conniving motherâ€“inâ€“law lived where he saw cattle, he now sees his nosy neighbor, Ed Nedney. Ed has an opinion on everything Joe does or doesn’t do and can’t understand why Joe isn’t more receptive to his help especially because property values affect the whole neighborhood. The call from the Governor while bringing the horrible news brings a temporary respite from Ed for Joe.
The Governor wants Joe Pickett on the case of a hunter found dead in the nearby mountains. It was not a hunting accident. The man was gutted and hung like one would do a game animal and the killer’s calling card; a red poker chip was left behind on the ground near the body. A team of investigators including Joe, and his old nemis and former bureaucratic boss, Randy Pope and others are assembled. While this is the first case Joe has been told about there have been others. And unknown to them there will be more too because the killer has an agenda and wants the story told in the nationwide media.
What follows is a complex tale in the Wyoming Mountains featuring violence, retribution and justice. Like many of the novels in this series, there is a certain old west feel to the book and the issues as well as the characters, despite the modern conveniences of pickup trucks, two-way radios, infrared equipment and all the rest of it. When it comes down to it this book, as are so many in this series, are a sequence of events that mark continuing escalations between Joe and his inner self as well as outside forces and these confrontations are only briefly settled in the Wyoming high country at the close of the novel.
After so many novels there really isn’t any character development work here regarding the Joe Pickett character. Or, for that matter, any of the other returning characters in this series. A minor plot line of Sheridan, now 16 and dealing with high school issues, does little to advance the work and instead is used primarily to illustrate again how Joe and his wife Marybeth have raised their children in the real world they live in and how out of touch folks from the East Coast are to the way of life in Wyoming. Otherwise, the reader learns a couple of new things about the recurring characters that shed further insight upon their behavior, but there really isn’t any character development.
At its heart, this novel is another part mystery, part adventure read, full of recurring characters and a new killer that walks among them with impunity. As always, the author’s deep appreciation for the natural beauty of Wyoming landscape come through as he tell yet another very completed and very good tale.
Blood Trail: A Joe Pickett Novel
G. P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Group)
Review copy provided by the Plano, Texas Public Library System
Kevin R. Tipple Â© 2008