Picks and Pans Review: Trophy Hunt

updated 07/19/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/19/2004 01:00AM

By C.J. Box
MYSTERY

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The events at the center of Box's fourth novel featuring game war den Joe Pickett make the fate of the Donner Party look like a square dance. First a moose, then several head of cattle and finally gruesomely flayed human bodies are found in Saddlestring, Wyo. Before you can say "last roundup," the tiny town has turned into one big crime scene. Inspired by a series of mysterious cattle killings in the 1970s, Box has concocted a narrative with a little of every thing thrown in: crop circles, an escaped grizzly bear, Native American mysticism. Although the plot feels overstuffed, the characters are compelling. As usual, corrupt Sheriff Barnum tries to stymie likable Joe's involvement in the investigation, while hermit falconer Nate Romanowski lends Joe a hand. Box does a good job of keeping the reader off balance, hinting that otherworldly elements may be responsible for the spate of violence. (As Nate cryptically remarks, "Sometimes, the laws are broken and things spill over from one level to the next.") Box vividly evokes life in the West, and the surprises he springs keep you guessing right to the end—and a little beyond.

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