Shadows Reel – C.J. Box (Joe Pickett #22)

Wow! I requested an advanced reader copy of this book from Netgalley because I previously read and enjoyed about four books from the Joe Pickett series, always swearing I would go back to read the series from book one. In my own experience of popping in and out, including this entry, Box writes all of his books to be read on their own. So have at it if you like and start with Shadows Reel. Still, I know from other books that there are rich backstories to the many complex men and women who populate the Joe Pickett Series.

Shadows Reel finds Joe returning to his work as a Game Warden after a period off due to injury. He’s called to a ranch to in his Wyoming region to check out a dead elk. The “elk” turns out to be a badly burned man, quickly identified and it makes zero sense that he was a murder victim. Parallel to this story, Joe’s friend Nate Romanowski, once a hermit and now married with a toddler, has left town on a rampage to find the man who hurt his wife and stole his birds of prey. Nate has trained these birds up from the egg to work for him in his bird abatement company. They are extraordinarily valuable and can be sold at high prices overseas but he is equally intent on bringing the guy who hurt his wife to justice.

Meanwhile, Marybeth, a librarian, finds herself puzzling over a Nazi photograph album that was inexplicably donated to the library. It is Thanksgiving weekend and the entire family will actually be together along with some guests and she finds herself trying to figure out how this ended up in Wyoming. Bonus: the photo album is real, was found in a Wyoming man’s WWII possessions and is online at a museum. Throughout the story, we follow a couple of murderers with an odd mission and background but I don’t do spoilers so that’s all you’ll hear about that!

I love that Box, without noticeably taking sides, writes about extremist views of various groups and characters– some the people we are rooting for– and some the villains. He touches on the humanity, or the psychopathy, or the wrongheadedness of every single person we meet and what each person does makes sense and is consistent with their values (not always good ones). I find I relate to even the most tangential people I meet along the way. Box writes with some humor, e.g., when Joe rescues a victim’s mutt and names it “Bert’s Dog.” Pay attention to his short and totally descriptive chapter titles. They are often amusing in their succinctness and information. As always, Box portrays through the eyes of his characters the beauty of Wyoming, life in a small town in the least populated state in the USA and Wyoming’s emotional draw to those born there as well as those who happen upon it. I only realized that the series is now a television show on Spectrum “Joe Pickett,” when I tried to buy a boxed set of the initial books in the series to save money per book. Instead, these boxed sets are now enormously costly so I had to settle for buying the first five books at a President’s Day sale on a book site.

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