In this second book by Box in the Joe Pickett series, he continues the theme of environmentalists vs. ranchers and loggers. Box appears to be trying to stay the middle course since he portrays both sides as extremists, willing to kill or maim the others. Joe is the same straight arrow game warden just trying to due his duty while finding a way to support his family on his meager salary. Joe has been called a “flawed character” by reviewers but that term is not applied in the normal way. He’s not a rule-breaker, an alcoholic, a cocaine addict, or a rogue cop. His flaws are of a milder, more benign sort. He lacks self-confidence. He’s not a good shot, at least not with a pistol. He fails to grasp evidence in plain sight when he should and thus makes it impossible to prosecute a trophy-hunting poacher. He’s almost wimpy for an action hero.
The best part of this book, like the first one, is its eloquent description of the gorgeous setting of the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. The author’s personal knowledge makes the telling credible and authentic while his skill as a writer makes the prose almost lyrical when describing the land. The plot is less believable than his first book and the gore is both more plentiful and more unnecessary. An exploding cow? Really? Huge trees flying through the air? I have a whole list of improbabilities, but they would be spoilers, so I’ll skip them. I liked the book, but I thought Box was trying too hard to be edgy and action-oriented, which are just euphemisms for violent and gory (probably at his publisher’s urging). His protagonist’s appeal is his sweet, semi-naive honesty and peaceable nature. He should have stuck with that strength. I have to drop the rating on this book from my first one on Open Season.