‘Below Zero’ is tightly written

By Bruce DeSilva
Associated Press Writer
“Below Zero,” by C.J. Box; Putnam, 342 pages, $24.95
Wyoming game Warden Joe Pickett isn’t the most heroic crime novel hero around, but he might be the most decent. In “Below Zero,” the ninth novel in the series, his best qualities are on full display: devoted family man, faithful public servant, loyal friend and lover of nature.
You’ll cheer when Joe finally nabs “the mad archer,” a cruel poacher who relishes inflicting pain and death on deer, eagles and even dogs. But that’s just the subplot.
The real action starts when Joe’s teenage daughter Sherry receives a mysterious text message. It purports to be from April, the foster daughter that the Picketts took in, and then lost, in the fiery conclusion to “Winterkill” (2003). Her body, charred beyond recognition, was buried years ago. Or was it? Could it be someone else lying in that grave?
Meanwhile, the girl who is, or isn’t, April, is in trouble. She’s traveling across the West with an environmental extremist who thinks that the best way to reduce a human being’s carbon footprint is to kill him. So Joe’s search for the mystery girl quickly turns into a murder investigation.
Those who have not read “Winterkill” will have no trouble following the story, but readers might find it more rewarding to start with the first Pickett novel and read them in order.
“Below Zero,” published just weeks after Box’s “Blue Heaven” won the Edgar Award for best crime novel of 2008, is primarily a crime story. But it is also an exploration of the limits of family love and the line between love of nature and environmental extremism.
As usual with Box’s novels, the action scenes are interwoven with loving descriptions of his native Wyoming’s farms, towns, mountains and prairies:
“Joe rolled into town at three-thirty in the morning as the fingers of morning mist began their probing ghost-creep from the river into Saddlestring and the single traffic light at the First and Main blinked amber in all directions. There were no lights on yet downtown, and the traffic consisted of a single town cop spotlighting a raccoon in an alley.”
The book is tightly written, with well-drawn characters and sharp dialogue. Box keeps the reader of balance with a series of plot twists as startling as anything on TV’s “24.” You never see them coming, yet they never feel contrived.

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