After reading “Inherit the Dead,” a mystery written by a compilation of famous mystery writers, I decided to pick up a book by one author whose writing really stood out: C.J. Box. I chose one of his earlier novels, Winterkill. In the story, his main character, a Wyoming game warden named Joe Pickett, becomes involved in a gruesome murder of a federal agent just as a winter storm is descending on his small, Wyoming town. The murder, concurrent with the arrival of a group of anti-government reactionaries, draws a particularly bizarre and unbalanced Forestry Service agent to the small town along with some unsavory FBI thugs. The agent, Melinda Strickland, is hell-bent on conducting a raid on the reactionaries encampment and finds the truth an inconvenient detail when faced with it. The situation becomes personal when Joe realizes his foster daughter has been abducted, and is likely being held at the camp, directly in the line of fire as federal and local law enforcement converge for an attack. Think Waco and Ruby Ridge. C.J. Box draws a vivid picture of the West and its people, but his true strength lies in his portrayal of nature, the wildlife of the mountains, the independ-minded people, and the dangerous beauty of the impending storm. He reminded me a great deal of another writer who has made the setting a character in his novels: Paul Doiron, who writes about Maine and also has a main character who is a game warden. (See earlier post called Capturing the Male Reader for a review of Doiron’s Bad Little Falls.) In Winterkill, Box explores the theme of protection as the character struggles with his guilt over not being able to protect his daughter. His sense of leaving her exposed to danger is symbolized by the trees exposed, resulting in winterkill, when the storm hits. The plot, albeit a tad contrived at times, has enough twists to keep a reader engaged and the characters are well drawn, with the exception of perhaps the villianess. The over-the-top strangeness and cold-heartedness of Melinda Strickland was a bit unbelievable more often than not, but she made a satisfactory “love to hate her” bad gal. Overall, a satisfying read and apropos on the eve of the snow expected here in the next twenty-four hours. Certainly hope it is nothing like the blizzard in this novel.