Sometimes, you just can’t fit in.
You stick out like a sore thumb, totally unable to melt into the crowd. You feel like you have a neon sign across your shoulders; one that says “I’M NEW!”
Yeah, you’re self-conscious then but, if you’re Game Warden Joe Pickett, you get used to it. And yet, as in the new book “Stone Cold” by C.J. Box (c.2014, Putnam, $26.95, 371 pages), standing out could get a man killed.
Anyone who’d seen Nate Romanowski on that nearly-moonless night would’ve instantly known he was a pro.
Romanowski had studied the Scoggins compound, he knew how to get inside, and he knew Henry Scoggins was a jerk, that nobody would really miss him. Nate knew where all the security weaknesses and surveillance cameras were — except one. So when Joe Pickett was shown trail-cam video weeks later and he spotted his friend Nate dragging something, he knew that trouble was mountain-high.
For some time, the Feds had been nosing around northeastern Wyoming, where folks kept mostly to themselves. In that atmosphere of solitude lived a certain Wolfgang Templeton, a man who owned half the county and most of the people in it, and whose name repeatedly rose during investigations of high-profile disappearances, including that of Scoggins. Was it just coincidence?
With a ruse of “helping” Medicine Wheel County Game Warden Jim Latta with a project, Pickett headed for the corner of the state, noting the beautiful land and the poverty of its people. Pickett had promised his wife that he’d avoid danger, but keeping safe wouldn’t be easy when there were so many questions.
Why, for instance, did Latta seem afraid of the county’s judge? Why did he look the other way while a couple of Templeton employees poached wild game at will? Who was the cold-eyed dandy on Templeton’s ranch? And why did everybody seem to know where Pickett was going, even before he got there?
Perhaps most vexing of all was the question of Pickett’s friend Nate, and Nate’s covert activities. It pained Pickett to imagine how Nate was involved — although not as much as it would hurt if he kept snooping …
Reading parts of “Stone Cold” is somewhat like going on a scenic vacation that takes a bad turn — in a good way.
Author C.J. Box lets his main character, Joe Pickett, savor the land, and it’s gorgeous. We’re treated to descriptive images of colorful mountains and harsh beauty, where even scrub takes on a relaxing aura and invites us to linger just a bit. It’s easy, therefore, to be lulled into forgetting exactly what you’ve got in your hands.
But then Box brings us abruptly back to his novel, in which few can be trusted and everything seems off. We’re soothed, then we’re hit with an uppercut of thriller that makes us reel — and makes us want more.
This novel is part of a series but can definitely be read by itself, so if you’re in need of a hot mystery, get this. You won’t be sorry because, for you, “Stone Cold” fits.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.