STONE COLD

Written by C.J. Box

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


STONE COLD
Head of Zeus
RRP: £18.99
Released: 4th April 2014
Hbk

A modern Western with all the basic elements: the obscenely rich rancher and his thugs, the maverick lawman, whores - one with a heart of gold.

No horses; pickups, ATVs and private planes substitute, and this rancher carries more than a whiff of organised crime. The lawman is a wildlife warden, but whores are still whores and guns are guns as ever.

The action kicks off in Montana where a wilderness traveller drifts down the Big Horn River to enter a fortified estate and shoot the owner: an evil despot who has impoverished innumerable innocent people. Shortly the killer is sent to New York on a similar mission: obviously a hitman, another Pale Rider.

Enter Joe Pickett, the wildlife warden, a concerned environmentalist with a passing contempt for tree-huggers; a hunter with a Lab. called Daisy and an all-female family. One daughter is currently infatuated with a louche rodeo rider, another deeply disturbed by a sinister student in her college. Already hag-ridden by such domestic issues Pickett is sent to the Black Hills of Wyoming to investigate a mystery man said to have purchased much of one county. The situation has echoes of the opening scenario but in Wyoming even the judge has been bought, and corruption among the cops from the sheriff down is a given. Connections are suggested by the reappearance of the hitman.

The plot is immaterial, the action intricate and exciting. There is empathy with the hired killer but his employer is a different case: cultured and courteous he is unhinged by his new lady. The author himself is a curiosity, lovingly detailing whole arsenals of weapons but his ambivalence epitomised by the climax to a sub-plot where a sudden hailstorm of bullets is reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde. It appears that Box subscribes to the tenet of the gun lobby: it's not guns that kill but the people behind them. This weird resolution to a peripheral plot doesn't detract from the grand and meaty melodrama of the main action, and its denouement which boggles the mind.

A riotous romp reproducing a view of the West  today in all its prurience and savagery, tempered with ingenuity.

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