My rating: 2 of 5 stars
So, I finally got around to reading the fourth entry in C. J. Box's Joe Pickett series. I had found the first three books fairly enjoyable reading, but I have to say this one was a bit of a disappointment.
The events here take place several months after those described in the third book where the Pickett family suffered a great tragedy when their foster daughter was killed. In this book, Joe and his two daughters seem to have moved on, but the wife, Marybeth, still mourns the little girl.
The family continues to struggle financially, as they try to live on Joe's meager salary plus whatever Marybeth can earn in her part-time jobs. She has recently started an accounting business and it is around one of her clients, a realty business, that the main action in Trophy Hunt takes place.
The story opens on an idyllic scene as Joe has taken his two daughters fly fishing on a stream near their home in Saddlestring, Wyoming. It is a beautiful late-summer day and all is well until the family starts noticing dead trout floating in the water and then happens upon a couple who are fishing. The man is apparently catching and releasing fish but doing it in such a way that the animals are traumatized and are unable to recover. Joe attempts to show him what he is doing wrong, but the man is an arrogant idiot who is not inclined to listen. Soon after leaving the couple, Joe makes a horrifying discovery. There is a dead bull moose lying in the edge of the stream.
Finding a dead moose in Wyoming is not an unprecedented event, but this dead moose is different. The animal has been mutilated, part of its face sliced away and sex organs and anus removed. These injuries were obviously not done by the teeth of an animal. They were done with a blade. Moreover, even though the moose has been dead for a while, no scavengers have fed on the body. Very strange, indeed.
In the area where the moose is found, Joe experiences a strange feeling in the atmosphere. It's something he has never really felt before - a kind of pressure - and he has difficulty describing it even to himself.
Joe has no explanation for what happened to the moose, but he hopes that will be the end of it. Those hopes are dashed a few days later when a small herd of cattle is found dead and mutilated. The sheriff attributes the attacks and mutilations to a grizzly bear, but game warden Joe Pickett knows that the cuts on the cattle were made with a smooth blade, just like those on the moose. This was no grizzly bear.
More horror is to come. Soon, the bodies of two men are found within hours of each other. They were found in separate locations, separate counties even, but their wounds were similar to those found in the cattle and the moose.
What can be happening in the sleepy town of Saddlestring? Is there a Wyoming Jack the Ripper on the loose, one who preys on animals as well as humans? Or is the town being visited by aliens from outer space, little green men who perform experiments on the Earthlings they find?
A task force is formed to investigate. It includes state, federal, and local law enforcement officials and one game warden - Joe Pickett. The task force makes little headway until Joe's intuition and his good friend Nate begin to uncover the pattern to the crimes and a possible motive behind them.
When the task force lists all of the possible avenues of investigation, one of the items that goes up on the board is that "little green men" theory. Its advocate is the sheriff's deputy.
Joe mentions on different occasions in this story that he doesn't like all that "woo-woo stuff," by which he means the paranormal or supernatural explanations. That being the case, I don't think he would like Trophy Hunt very much because there is a whole lot of that "woo-woo stuff" that is left hanging at the end of the tale.
Too many things are left unexplained and it is at least implied that there may be something of the supernatural in the Wyoming forests and mountains. Maybe this is to be continued and explained in the next book, but I didn't like the fact that things were left in such a foggy state here. I don't like my mysteries to leave loose threads hanging all over the place.
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