I read the previous book in this series several weeks ago and the ending left me hanging, wondering how the main character, Joe Pickett, would respond to the changes in his life. He had just been fired from his job as a game warden for the state of Wyoming. He had finally run afoul of bureaucratic politics once too often.
The job had defined who he was as a person. What would he do now?
The answer was that he would become a ranch foreman for his wealthy father-in-law. But, of course, that didn't last long.
Soon, the governor of Wyoming came calling with a proposition for Joe. There had been a spot of trouble in Yellowstone National Park. A lawyer had shot and killed four people, environmental activists who worked for the company that had the contract to provide visitor services at the park. He admitted to the killing, turned himself in to the rangers, and said that he had shot the people because they had insulted him.
When the justice system attempted to prosecute the man, he pointed out that the killings had taken place in a small fifty-square-mile area of the park where there is no legal jurisdiction - a "free-fire" zone where it is possible to actually get away with murder. And he did. He walked free, much to the anger and frustration of all the authorities and the community.
The governor is outraged, but he also suspects that there is something more going on in Yellowstone, something that precipitated the murders, rather than the alleged insult. He wants Joe Pickett to go there as his representative (unofficial) and investigate. He'll be back on the state payroll as a game warden, with an increase in pay, and he'll have a free hand to handle the investigation however he sees fit. Which, to Joe, means that he can get his friend, Nate Romanowski, to help.
Joe doesn't have to think about the offer for long. He accepts and heads out to Yellowstone, with Nate to follow.
The story line details how Joe proceeds with his investigation in his usual bumbling way and it emphasizes the continued tensions between federal employees at the park and state employees, with, as usual, the feds (most of them, anyway) playing the role of bad guy. Joe does find allies among the federal employees and they slowly piece together the story behind the killings in the "Zone of Death".
The governor's instinct was right. There is something very rotten in the state of Wyoming.
Box moves his plot along toward an inexorable conclusion and in the process provides a lot of information about the history and the geology of Yellowstone and the laws governing the area. It turns out that the "Zone of Death," the free-fire zone, really did exist.
Some of the most interesting parts of the book involve the explication of the geology of the place. Having just this past week been reading about the caldera and the super volcano that underlies Yellowstone and that will one day erupt once again, my reading of this book seemed fortuitous and reinforced some of the information I had learned.
Yellowstone is truly a fantastical place and this book, while fiction, gives a good sense of that, as well as furthering the saga of Joe Pickett and his family.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars