“My Dad is a game warden for all of the mountains as far as you can see,” writes Joe Pickett’s daughter, Sheridan, for a school assignment. “His job is to make sure hunters are responsible and that they obey the law. It can be a scary job,” she continues, “but he’s good at it.” Indeed, WINTERKILL demonstrates just how good Joe is, and how frightening his job can be.
The arrival of the Nation of the Rocky Mountain Sovereign Citizens in Twelve Sleep County is bad news for Joe. Worse is the murder of District Supervisor Lamar Gardiner, mere moments following his arrest, which brings US Forest Service investigator Melinda Strickland and FBI sharpshooter Dick Munker, a veteran of Waco and Ruby Ridge, to town. As if that wasn’t enough, the birth mother of Lucy, whom she abandoned years earlier, and the girl the Pickett’s have been in the process of adopting ever since, has demanded her daughter’s return. And who is the enigmatic Nate Romanowski, with his penchant for large-calibre handguns, bows and arrows, and falconry? An ally or enemy, or something in between?
CJ Box’s novels, set in unfamiliar terrain, are always a breath of fresh air. Joe Pickett is an unassuming hero – a friendly, good-natured, family man. In WINTERKILL he is pushed almost to breaking point, and witnessing the seemingly infallible game warden falter is utterly enthralling reading. The narrative snakes dependably, and the story rockets along, barring the occasional (but absolutely necessary) break to refocus on the other Pickett family members. When Joe is facing impossible odds, and insane scenarios, these intervals are delightful reminders of his underlining normalcy.
While the third Joe Pickett novel leaves plenty of plot threads untied, to be picked up on in later instalments, it serves perfectly as a standalone. Its emotional repercussions will be felt by readers regardless of the length of their relationship with the character.