Thursday, February 5, 2015

Review: COLD WIND by CJ Box

COLD WIND by CJ Box (Corvus, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Renewable energy meets murderous motives in the eleventh instalment of award-winning CJ Box's superb series starring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. Multi-millionaire developer and media mogul Earl Alden isn't the most popular man in Twelve Sleep County, so when his lifeless body is found shot and hanging from one of the garish 250-foot high windmills he owned, in theory there should be plenty of suspects.

Unfortunately for Pickett, the prime one is his much-despised mother-in-law Missy, who had made Alden her fifth husband, further growing her property holdings. When the murder weapon is found in her vehicle, Sheriff Kyle McLanahan's eyes light up with the pre-reelection publicity possibilities of arresting the widely unpopular Missy and putting her on trial for murder. While in some ways Pickett would love nothing better than to see his self-absorbed mother-in-law behind bars, unable to constantly berate her daughter for marrying a man Missy finds so unworthy, for his wife's sake he finds himself trying to prove her innocence. Putting his colleagues in law enforcement – who see Missy as a gold-digging killer and have her firmly in their sights – well offside. Pickett agrees about the gold-digging, but as he begins to look closer at Alden's murder, he starts questioning whether she is a killer.

But can Pickett keep Missy out of prison? Deep down, does he even want to? As things get more and more complicated, and powerful interests line up against him, Pickett could really use the help of his old friend and sometime nemesis, the lethal Nate Romanowski, but Nate has problems of his own, and is looking for payback after his past rears up and hurts one of the few people close to him.

With COLD WIND, Box spins a top notch tale that entertains and impresses on a number of levels. Part maverick investigation, part action-packed revenge quest, part courtroom drama, the story twists and turns, but is always engrossing and nuanced.

Pickett is an intriguing hero. Several other characters refer to him as a 'Dudley Do-Right', and there certainly is a strong Boy Scout streak to him – but Pickett is more complex and layered than just a white-hat wearing cipher of a hero. Overall, Box has a great touch for bringing a sense of authenticity and texture to many of his characters, even those who could seem cartoonish on the surface (such as a verbose Southern defence lawyer, and Shamazz, the wacky performance artist son of Pickett's pre-Alden father-in-law). Readers get a glimpse into their perspective, a small insight into a more rounded person, even with some of the smaller characters. The interplay between characters, and the complex relationships between the likes of Missy and Pickett and Marybeth (his wife), and Pickett and Nate, are another aspect that elevates the story and the series above your standard crime fiction fare. We get an insight into the complexity of family relationships, not just a page-turning plotline.

And, although there is less game hunting and Great Outdoors content in COLD WIND than some of Box's other books, he continues to provide a great sense of the physical and social setting. Ideas and issues about development, renewable energy, and Wyoming politics and industry are all woven throughout an exciting crime tale. Readers get a real sense of the place and the people; an example of Ian Rankin's view that the best of crime fiction has become "the modern social novel", exploring aspects of people, places, and changing society much better than most literary fiction, and via the prism of an exciting story and engaging characters that make people want to turn the page and read more. '

I, for one, am now pretty hooked on this series.


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned journalist from New Zealand who writes reviews and features about crime fiction for many magazines, newspapers, and websites around the world. He has discussed crime writing both at book festivals and on radio, is the creator and Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award, and the founder and editor of Crime Watch. 


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