Those two words send the fictitious Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett out on one case after another in the new collection of short fiction by C. J. Box that includes 10 stories, several of them featuring the character of the best selling novels.
If you read C.J. Box regularly, you might have seen some of these stories as most have appeared in previous anthologies or limited edition releases, but three of them are included in this collection and published for the first time. There are four stories featuring the novel characters Joe Pickett and Nate Romanowski, the master falconer who lives under his own rules.
Joe Pickett finds himself investigating a fatal car accident after he heads out to a Wyoming ranch to inform the manager that the state game and fish department has rejected an application for a permit to operate an exotic game farm in the area. The wealthy absentee landowner arrives by jet just as Pickett shares the news and the ranch manager realizes his position is in serious jeopardy since he had “failed” to sway political and public opinion and get approval for the game farm.
But fate (or is it?) has a way of making things right for the hard-working manager and his family.
Pickett finds himself facing another mystery death when he heads out to Dull Knife Reservoir to check out some ice fishermen and winds up finding a pickup crashed through the ice of the lake. This one focuses on a woman who had been a standout basketball player on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
That is a signature of a Box story, almost all have a core element that actually happened — or could have! In this case, he notes that as a boy he and some friends once found a vehicle under the ice of a lake in Central Wyoming ... with the light still on and shining eerily through the water and icy surface.
The genesis of “Pronghorns of the Third Reich” was a photograph Charles Belden took in the Meeteetse, Wyo., area showing the capture of fawn antelope and transferring them by airplane to foreign locations, including one picture that shows the antelope ready to be loaded onto the Hindenberg.
Each of these stories has a bit of a mystery element, most a murder or other death. All are quickly paced making this a book you can enjoy in a single read, or by breaking it into short sessions reading a story now and another later.
One story in the collection has a good premise — how do good friends manage to survive a brutal Wyoming winter living together in a small cabin. Set in 1835 in the Wind River Mountains, this mountain man tale is solid and interesting with one fatal flaw to this reader. For some unfathomable reason Box, who really ought to know better, sends one character out on the trail and runs him into a camp of Indians. That is all plausible and even well told EXCEPT for the fact that the Indian tribe he uses is Pawnee.
This story is set in what would become Wyoming, yet he uses Pawnee Indians, not Shoshone, Arapaho or even Bannock. Those three tribes were in the region in 1835, not the Pawnees, who were plains tribes more commonly found in areas that would become Nebraska and Kansas.
The proof that good things come in small packages is reinforced in “Blood Knot,” the shortest of the stories at only 1,000 words. This is the story I liked best in the collection, because Box doesn’t waste a single word and he delivers a very powerful message drawn from something I know he loves to do — fishing!
I received an advance reading copy of this book; it will be on sale in stores everywhere beginning August 5. ❖