Fort Smith, Montana
Nate Romanowski pushed the drift boat onto the Bighorn River at three-thirty in the morning on a Sunday in early October and let the silent muscle of the current pull him away from the grassy bank. Eight miles downriver was the fortified and opulent vacation home of the notorious man he was going to kill.
It was twenty-four degrees and steam rose from the surface of the black water in thick tendrils, and he was soon enveloped in it. The craft f loated quietly and he manned the long oars to keep the up- swept bow pointing forward. Gnarled walls of river cottonwoods closed him in, their bare branches reaching overhead from both banks as if to try and join hands. For ten minutes between Third Island and Dag’s Run, he couldn’t see a damned thing and operated exclusively on feel and sound and experience. He kept to the main channel and avoided the shallows so he wouldn’t scrape bottom and could f loat as swiftly as possible.
He’d made the run before in preparation—so many times, in fact, that the rhythm, mood, and temperament of the river was as famil- iar to him as his falcons, his weapons, and his code. Or what was left of his code, anyway, he thought, and grinned bitterly to himself in the dark.
While doing night reconnaissance, he’d worn the narrow com- pression pack on his back that he wore now, and he was so used to the dead weight of the gear inside that he almost forgot it was there. His .500 Wyoming Express five-shot revolver, the most powerful handgun on earth, hung grip-out from its shoulder holster below his left ribs, its security tether unsnapped.
Over his shoulder, the massive concrete spillway of the Yellowtail Dam glowed light blue in the muted light of the stars and the scythe- like slice of moon. A single cumulus cloud, its rounded edges high- lighted by starlight, moved from north to south, blotting out the continuity of the brilliant Milky Way. It would be hours before f ly- fishing guides and anglers—men, women, but mostly men—arrived at the launch near the dam and started their half-day or daylong drift f loats down the legendary Bighorn. Nate slipped a cell phone from his breast pocket and powered it on. When he had a signal and the screen glowed, he called up the only number stored in it and texted: It’s a go. And sent the message.
Within a minute, there was a response: Go do some good.
Nate turned off the phone and slipped it back into his pocket.
Nat e wa s ta l l , angular, and rangy. He didn’t row with the oars but used them to steer the boat by lowering one or the other into the current to bring the bow around. He had worked on his technique so it was smooth and he wouldn’t splash. The oars were an extension of his arms, and his movements were smooth and unhurried.
His friend Joe Pickett had once described his face and eyes as “hawklike.” His blond ponytail, constrained by leather falcon jesses, had grown to midway between his shoulders. It was tucked into the collar of his tactical sweater so it wouldn’t be noticed. His eyes were blue and piercing, and the planes of his face were f lat, severe, and aerodynamic. He wore a dark camo slouch hat, and his sharp cheek- bones were darkened with soot so the moonlight, such as it was, wouldn’t ref lect.
Th er e wa s no dou bt, Nate had been told, that the world would be a better place without Henry P. Scoggins III in it.
Scoggins was short, f leshy, stooped, and walleyed, and was the last direct heir of the Scoggins pharmaceutical empire of Newark, New Jersey. Unlike his grandfather, the senator and ambassador, or his father, the well-intentioned philanthropist, Henry the Third, as he was known, used his billions to manipulate monetary currencies around the world, corner the market on fourteen of seventeen rare earth metals, and lavishly fund activist groups that advocated legal- ized prostitution, drug use, and polygamy. He enjoyed the company of corrupt machine politicians, gangsta rap artists, foreign dictators, and domestic organized-crime figures. Several of his lurid divorce proceedings were front-page news over the years, as well as the Los Angeles murder trial where he’d been accused of shooting a hooker in the face and killing her on the front porch of his mansion. He had been found innocent when the jury bought his lawyer’s claim that Scoggins mistook her for a homicidal home invader threaten- ing his Beverly Hills neighborhood at the time.
In video clips, Scoggins spoke in a deliberate mid-register timbre that belied his habit of constantly and furtively looking over the heads of the listeners, as if searching for someone more worth- while, better-looking, or less threatening in the room. He had the arrogant look of a bully who had insulated himself so he’d never have to directly confront a challenge, the kind of man comfortable with rewarding his friends in person and punishing his enemies from a distance.
Isolating the man was the problem. Scoggins surrounded himself with armed bodyguards, and his five U.S.-based homes—Newark, Manhattan, Aspen, Palm Beach, and the infamous Beverly Hills manse—were set up with elaborate security systems. His overseas properties in Caracas, Abu Dhabi, and Grand Cayman were pro- tected by security contractors who were ex–Black Ops.
Few people were aware of the six-million-dollar log home Scog- gins had recently purchased through a holding company on the bank of the Bighorn River. The reason: he wanted to learn to f ly-fish. The rumor was that Scoggins thought he was buying the river itself.
For t h e pa s t w e ek, in addition to the late-night reconnaissance f loats, Nate had scouted the Scoggins property on the ground by trespassing through an adjoining landholding and avoiding the care- taker. There were very few private residences in the river valley, and the few that were there were massive and expensive. They were ac- cessed by a private road that paralleled the bends of the river. Only a couple of the structures could be seen from the road itself, due to high stone walls and steel security gates. The Scoggins property had not only a swinging gate operated by remote control but also a small guardhouse manned by an armed employee during daylight hours. At night, visitors—mostly delivery trucks—had to identify them- selves via the closed-circuit camera at the gate to be buzzed in. Ad- ditional closed-circuit cameras that swept the grounds were mounted on poles within the compound, and Nate counted two men—one openly armed with a combat shotgun—lazily patrolling the grounds. He had dubbed the gate operator Thug Two, and the men on patrol Thug Three and Thug Four. All wore loose-fitting untucked shirts and cargo pants.
Nate noted the disparity between the massive homes built of logs, stone, and glass, complete with guesthouses and outbuildings and sweeping manicured lawns, and the utter squalor of the Crow Indian Reservation just beyond the fence.
On Friday he’d caught a glimpse of Scoggins in person. He’d been glassing the grounds through his spotting scope, memorizing the layout of the buildings and internalizing the contours of the ground, when a thick metal door opened and two women tumbled out. They had long brown legs and jet-black hair and they were wearing only lingerie. As Nate focused in, he felt the hair on the nape of his neck rise. They were Indians, likely Crows from the reservation. They wore too much makeup and they clutched bundles of their clothing under their arms, as if they’d been in a hurry to gather it up before they were thrown out of the house. The taller one reminded him of a woman he’d once loved named Alisha, who was a Shoshone and a teacher on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. It jolted him to his core. She wasn’t Alisha but a prostitute, obviously, and she was being unceremoniously kicked out of the house before she could even get dressed.
The shorter of the two women spun on her heel and shouted some- thing Nate couldn’t hear at someone out of view inside the house. The taller woman paused, dropped her head in fear or panic, and reached out to the shorter woman to urge her on.
Then Scoggins appeared, f lanked by a barrel-chested younger man who had the build of a weight lifter and a smirk on his face. He also wore an oversized shirt and cargo pants. Nate had deemed him Thug One because he rarely left Scoggins’s side.
Scoggins wore a loose-fitting robe and oversized slippers on his feet. Two thin white naked ankles could be seen beneath the hem of the robe. Maybe it was Scoggins’s hunched slouch and widespread eyes that, even at that distance, reminded Nate of a toad. He was smirking as well, but also f lipping his fingers at the women, obvi- ously urging them to go away.
When the shorter woman kept talking and gesticulating and wouldn’t leave, Thug One shouldered around Scoggins and rushed her with three long and quick strides. As she turned to run, the big man kicked her hard enough beneath her buttocks to lift her off the ground and send her sprawling. When she scrambled to retrieve the clothes that had f lown into the air, the thug wound up for another kick and the taller hooker yanked the shorter one down the pathway, leaving the clothes strewn on the grass.
Nate could only guess the cause of the altercation. Maybe the hookers had objected to what they were asked to do, or they’d tried and didn’t satisfy their customer. Maybe one of them got mouthy or tried to steal something. Or maybe Scoggins decided to throw them out instead of pay them. Nate planned to find out.
What he did know was that the altercation made his blood boil. It wasn’t Alisha, of course, because Alisha had been murdered. A lock of her hair hung from a beaded band on the barrel of his .50 caliber revolver. But she looked like Alisha and it brought back a wave of guilt, shame, and lethal rage. And when the thug kicked the girl hard enough to send her f lying, Nate barely resisted drawing his weapon and charging down the hill to what would likely have been his certain death.
Later, he watched through his spotting scope as Thug One came back out of the house and gathered the scraps of clothing the prosti- tute had left behind. He walked them over to a trash barrel behind a storage shed and burned them.
“You bastard,” Nate whispered.
He c aught up with the two prostitutes walking up the middle of the narrow two-lane highway in their bare feet. The taller one dan- gled a pair of spike heels from her index finger. The women were cold and disheveled, and when they heard him approach in his rented SUV, they turned and grinned desperately, hoping for a ride. Nate slowed and drove around them and signaled them in.
“Car break down?” he asked.
“Something like that,” the shorter one said, taking the backseat. “You are a sight for sore eyes,” the taller one said, jumping up into
the passenger seat and dropping her shoes on the f loorboard. The interior of his vehicle was suddenly filled with a combination of sweet perfume and musky sweat.
The short one was named Candy Alexander and the tall one who looked less like Alisha than he thought previously said her name was D. Anita LittleWolf. Both were from Crow Agency on the reserva- tion, but they wanted to get to Hardin to the north because that’s where they’d left LittleWolf ’s pickup.
“It’s parked on the side of a bar,” LittleWolf said. “I’m really happy you picked us up. Thank you.”
“Yes, thank you,” Alexander said from the back. He glanced up and saw her dark eyes in the rearview mirror. Streaks of black mas- cara ran down her face from her lashes and she rubbed it clean with the heel of her hand.
As he drove to Hardin, he made small talk with them about the weather, about fishing, about how odd it was to find two women in their underwear walking up a deserted highway in southern Mon- tana. Although they didn’t get specific, they said they’d been invited to “party down” at a big house on the river, but the host had kicked them out and not even offered to drive them back to where they’d been picked up. Alexander was still fuming about it, but LittleWolf was serene and seemed to take it in stride.
“So the owner of the house invited you to his place and then kicked you out?”
“It wasn’t the owner who took us out there,” Alexander said, and described Thug One. “We didn’t meet the owner until we got there.” “He said he doesn’t like dark meat,” LittleWolf said without a hint
“He sounds like a jerk,” Nate said.
“He’s an asshole,” Alexander said, nodding. “They’re both assholes. I’d like to round up some friends of mine and go back there . . .”
“Forget about it,” LittleWolf said. “You’d never get in that place again.”
Nate feigned ignorance and asked her why she said that.
After putting on clothes from overnight bags they’d left in their vehicle, LittleWolf and Alexander loosened up over beers in the bar and told Nate about their adventure, from being contacted by Thug One to being met by him at the bar and transported to the big house on the Bighorn River. How the man asked the gate guard to buzz him in. How he punched a keypad on the front door to unlock it. How the owner of the house had come down the staircase and disap- proved of their looks and sent them away, the scene Nate had wit- nessed. Now that they were safe and warm and their pickup was just outside, they laughed about the details. LittleWolf said she was glad they were gone, because the owner of the place gave her the creeps.
Nate asked them to back up to when they entered the main house. “There was a keypad?” he asked, and slipped his notebook out
from his pocket.
Nate asked D. Anita LittleWolf and Candy Alexander to close their eyes and recall what Thug One had done when he opened the door while it was still very fresh in their memory. LittleWolf said she couldn’t see the pad from where she had stood on the porch, but Alexander smiled and described the scene. The keypad was metal and had three rows of numbers: one-two-three on top, four-five-six in the middle, seven-eight-nine on the third row, and a single zero button on the bottom. Nate had sketched out the sequence of the pad on a napkin and handed it over. Alexander closed her eyes in re- call, and punched 4-2-2 and another button in the third row. It was either an eight or a nine, she said. She wasn’t sure.
When Nate asked her how she could recall the sequence, she said she learned it by looking over the shoulders of rubes using the ATM at the convenience store on the reservation across from the Custer Bat- tlefield, where she used to work. Both women collapsed in laughter.
“It eventually got me fired,” Alexander squealed. “But not before I
scored a few hundred dollars from turistas.”
Later, after two more rounds, LittleWolf invited him to follow them back to Crow Agency. “We’ve got a place where we can party,” she said. She looked into his eyes without a hint of guile, and for a moment he saw Alisha again.
“I’ll have to pass,” he said.
“You don’t like dark meat, either?” Alexander said, teasing him. “Actually, I do,” Nate said. “But I don’t like that term. There’s no
dignity in it.”
Chastened, they gathered their purses and shoes. He saw them to their pickup but didn’t follow.
Th e previous nigh t, Saturday, he’d stayed hidden with his spot- ting scope and noted the routine of the Scoggins compound. There had been no more women brought in, and there were no outside visi- tors. The three outside thugs went into the main house as the sun set, and apparently had dinner at the same time as Scoggins and Thug One. They remained there for an hour, then drifted away one by one to a guesthouse located between the main house and the gate. The lights remained on in the guesthouse until twelve-fifteen a.m.
Not surprisingly, there were two house staff who exited the main house after the three thugs had gone. A middle-aged man and woman crossed the grounds from the house to a tiny cottage on the edge of the property. Nate guessed by their dress that the woman was the cook and the man was her assistant, and possibly an all-around maintenance staffer for the property. They held hands as they walked under an overhead light. Nate was charmed, and vowed to himself that no harm would come to them.
It took longer for Scoggins and Thug One to go to sleep. Light from the second-f loor windows—Nate guessed it was Scoggins’s room, since it took up the entire f loor—remained on until one-thirty. A ground-f loor light in the corner was off at midnight. It made sense that the primary bodyguard, Thug One, would be located between the front door and the stairs to Scoggins’s f loor. On the other corner of the main house opposite from Thug One, a dim light remained on the entire night. Nate guessed it was the security center, where someone sat awake with the CC monitors f lickering from all the cameras on the grounds. He wondered about motion detectors, and assumed they were there somewhere.
With a choked-down mini Maglite clenched between his teeth, Nate drew a sketch on a fresh page of his notebook. He outlined the main house, the outbuildings, the guesthouse, the cottage, the wall, and the gate. Within the grounds, he drew circles with a CC inside to designate each camera. Then he scratched three large X ’s to symbolize the three thugs in the guesthouse, two more for Thug One and the security administrator in the main house, and a dollar sign for Scoggins himself.
Nat e h a d de t er m i n e d by his surveillance there was no way to access the Scoggins property from the road without a small army, which he didn’t have and didn’t want. And there was no way to sneak across it in the dark without being captured by video or confronted by bodyguards. If motion detectors were installed, Nate guessed they’d be concentrated between the wall and gate and the compound.
But like the other huge homes along the small strip of private land, Scoggins’s home fronted the water. That way, he could sit inside with a drink behind car-sized sheets of glass and see the river as the sun set or rose. Guided f ly fishermen could look at his place with envy and wonder as they f loated by. The absolutely no trespass- ing, don’t even think about getting out of your boat and vi- olators will be prosecuted signs—plus the rotating closed-circuit video camera and five-strand razor-wire fence—kept them out.
Having the magnificent log house on open display to the river was an act of vanity.
And it was Nate’s means of accessing the property. Or, as his employer would say, Go do some good.
Nat e m a n eu v er e d t h e dr if t boat into the slow current that hugged the right bank of the river as he approached the Scoggins compound. Thick willows bent overhead and created a black shadow that he f loated through. His senses were tuned up high, and he felt more than saw or heard the presence of the compound around the next slight bend to his right. He eased the boat against the willows until the hull thumped against the grassy bank and he reached up and grabbed a handful of branches to pull him in tighter. Slowly, quietly, he grasped the rope between his feet and lowered the anchor in back until it held and stopped the boat. He swung his boots over the gunwale and stood in the cold water. It was knee-deep.
He stayed hard against the wall of willows as he waded silently downstream. After no more than a dozen steps, lights from the compound strobed through the brush and he knew that the stand of willows would end to reveal a long grassy slope all the way up to the log home. He was already behind the river fence. If he walked out in the clear, he could be seen by the closed-circuit camera that swept back and forth along the bank. It was mounted on the side of a river cot- tonwood and accompanied by a motion detector. Because of the roaming wildlife that hugged the river, Nate guessed the motion de- tector sounded off periodically throughout the night and would likely not alarm the technician inside. But a screen shot of him on a monitor certainly would.
In the shadows, Nate unbuckled his compression pack and re- versed it so it covered his chest. He unzipped the top. For easy access, the items inside had been packed in the reverse order they were to be used.
For seven full minutes, Nate stood hidden in the river with his eyes closed, going over his plan. Not that something wouldn’t go wrong—it always did. The trick was to try and anticipate the sur- prise problems as best he could and come up with options on the f ly. His assignment was to kill Henry P. Scoggins III, but with a twist of his own. The twist was important to him.
And if his plans blew up once they were under way, he had to keep the endgame in mind. Even if the result was a bloodbath he hoped to avoid.
Wh e n h e ope n e d h is e y e s, the night seemed lighter, brighter, and suddenly charged with anticipation. The river sounds behind him were louder and more full-throated. He could distinctly smell the odors and perfumes of the world around him: the tinny smell of the moving river, the decayed mud that swirled in the current he’d stirred up along the bank, sage from the hills beyond the river, even cooking smells that lingered from the log house itself. He took a deep breath, held it, and slowly expelled it through his nostrils.
It was then he realized he was not alone in the stand of brush.
Less than three feet away was a heavy-bodied mule deer doe, her big eyes fixed on him and her large ears cupped in his direction. He instinctively reached across his body for his weapon, but paused as his hand gripped the butt of his revolver. Now that he saw her, he noticed he could smell her as well; musky, dank, sage on her breath. His movement had not spooked her out of the willows.
In falconry parlance, the state of yarak is defined as: “full of stam- ina, well muscled, alert, neither too fat nor too thin, perfect condi- tion for hunting and killing prey. This state is rarely achieved but a wonder to behold when observed.”
Nate was as close to yarak as a human could be.
The mule deer could help him. She could be his partner. He no- ticed she was trembling, ready to spring away.
He whispered, “Go.”
She did, and with a crash of snapped willows the deer bounded from the brush into the clearing.
Nate moved swiftly, emerging from the brush right behind her, keeping the trunk of the tree between him and the CC camera. The boxy snout of the camera was pointed downriver but rotating in his direction as he approached it. The deer veered away from the tree and continued bouncing—boing-boing-boing—along the fence. As Nate ran straight toward the camera, he reached into the top of his pack and unfurled a black cloth sack that he threw over both the camera and mount before it could view him. It was like placing a hood over the head of a falcon, and he cinched the drawstring tight and stood back. The camera still rotated inside the sack, and it resembled the head of a man looking from side to side.
There was another distant snapping of willows and cattails as the mule deer vanished into the brush on the other side of the clearing. No doubt the motion detector had signaled the intrusion. Perhaps the camera had caught a f leeting look at the doe—his partner—as she bounded through its field of view.
“Thank you,” Nate said to the deer.
Then he stepped back into the shadows of the willows and checked his watch and waited.
It took tw e n t y-t wo m i n u t e s, much longer than he had esti- mated, before he heard the slamming of a door at the log house and heavy footfalls on their way down to the river. That it had taken the technician so long to realize his riverside camera was out confirmed to Nate that the man wasn’t anticipating trouble. Or he was simply incompetent. That bodes well, Nate thought to himself. He hoped the other thugs would be as thick.
A harsh orb of white light from a f lashlight moved down the slop- ing grass lawn in front of the technician. Nate squinted and turned his head and followed it in his peripheral vision. It was a trick he’d learned years before in the Third World for maintaining his night sight. A blast of the f lashlight in his eyes would blind him momen- tarily if he let it happen, and he couldn’t risk it.
He heard the footfalls stop less than twelve feet away, and heard a man say to himself, “What the fuck?”
Meaning the technician was illuminating the black hood covering the camera with the beam of his f lashlight and probably wondering what it was.
Nate hurled himself from the willows like a blitzing linebacker going after the quarterback on his blind side. He dived low so his full weight would take out the legs of the technician.
The man made an umpf sound as he was hit and his f lashlight f lew into the air. The butt of a shotgun grazed Nate’s shoulders as he took the man down, and he quickly turned and swarmed him and wrenched the long gun away and threw it aside.
Before the technician could cry out, Nate jammed a spare black hood into his mouth with his left hand and chopped hard across the bridge of the man’s nose with his right. He heard the muff led crack of bone and smelled the hot metallic f lood of blood.
The technician didn’t put up much of a fight—that usually hap- pened from the immediate result of a broken nose—and he went sud- denly limp with shock and pain. Nate rolled the technician over on his stomach and bound his hands behind his back with one of the plastic zip-tie cuff restraints he kept in the side pocket of his pack. He pulled it tight. He did the same with the technician’s ankles, and used an additional thirty-inch zip tie to hog-tie the man so he couldn’t move. Nate had done it all very quickly, he thought, and with the speed and panache of a steer roper used to winning money at the rodeo.
Nate rif led through the technician’s cargo pants and baggy shirt. There weren’t any more weapons, and Nate found a cell phone, a small walkie-talkie (turned off ), loose change, a billfold, two loose marijuana joints—the reason it had taken him so long to respond?— and tossed it all into the willows. The technician’s clothing and thick hair smelled of weed.
Nate rocked back on his haunches and surveyed the slope up to the log home and the outbuildings beyond it. There was no sound or movement, no lights suddenly coming on from Thug One’s level or from the guesthouse.
He dragged the limp body of the technician out of the moonlight and left him in the shadows of the willows, then ducked inside the cover to circumnavigate the compound from the wooded right side.
Wh e n Nat e re e m erge d from the tangle of downed timber and river cottonwoods, the guesthouse was before him. He paused and let his breathing slow, noting the lack of movement, sound, or lights from within the building. It was a log-constructed home in the same style of the main house, only much smaller and on one level. He kept the guesthouse between himself and one of the lawn-mounted cam- eras he’d noted during his reconnaissance and f lattened himself against the exterior wall on the left side of the front door. It was a steel door in a steel frame but had been painted to look like wood. He could hear rhythmic snoring from inside.
He drew a glue gun with the long tube of aircraft adhesive from his pack and uncapped the nozzle. The substance was strong enough to be used to bond ceramic tiles to the space shuttle. He could smell a strong whiff of the quick-drying epoxy in the still night air as he carefully wedged the tip of the tube between the door and doorjamb, then worked a glistening bead of it across the top of the threshold and down the side of the door itself. He pumped a little extra near the latch and strike plate to figuratively weld the mechanism in place.
Nate left the porch and kept his head down as he circled the house, leaving snail tracks of epoxy along the bottom of all the closed windows in their frames. He replicated the procedure on the back door, and waited a few minutes for the glue to dry. He risked tug- ging on the back door and found it bound tight.
He capped the glue gun and stowed it away in his pack and turned toward the main house. Nate had decided to not worry about the older couple in the bungalow.
Alt hough h e approach e d the front door of the main log house by zigzagging from tree to tree across the lawn, Nate had no doubt that his image was being captured by video sweeps from the closed- circuit cameras, and that additional motion detectors were noting his movements. But since the technician was bound up near the river and there was no clicking on of lights or discernible movement from within the main house, he banked on the assumption that the tech- nician had been alone with no backup.
Nate paused at the heavy front door and stared at the keypad. A wrong combination might trigger an additional alarm that could wake Thug One and Scoggins inside.
He reached down and punched 4-2-2-8.
A tiny red light pulsed on the side of the keypad, but there was no internal sound that indicated the door had unlocked. He could hear no alarm inside.
Nate drew his .500 Wyoming Express with his right hand and held the long-barreled weapon tight against his right thigh and punched
4-2-2-9 with his left index finger. There was a thunk from the lock- ing mechanism, and Nate pushed the door open as a single high chime rang out inside.
Revue de presse
“[A] superlative outing . . . Box gets everything right: believably real characters, a vivid setting, clear prose and ratcheting tension. Maintaining these standards over 14 novels is more than impressive.”—The Plain Dealer
“Stone Cold features carefully crafted characters who live in the wilds of Wyoming, a setting that Box uses to great effect . . . Box creates a story with an unique premise and takes readers along for a suspenseful, action-filled ride.”—The Denver Post
“Box weaves vivid descriptions of Wyoming’s landscape and the personal drama of Pickett’s family into a blistering page-turner.”—Arizona Republic
“In C.J. Box's thrillers, [Wyoming] is a featured character and you get to know its thickly forested mountains, its windy plains and its frontierlike towns . . . [a] fun read.”—Associated Press
“Another exciting read from crime fiction’s king of the great outdoors.”—Madison County Herald
“The author has proven that he can write good -- no, great – books.”—Wyoming Eagle Tribune
“With each book, Box just gets better. Nonstop action, a twisty plot, and great characters make his latest a must-read for fans of this series.”—Library Journal
“This marks a welcome return to the thing Box does best: putting family man Joe in a dicey situation where, despite his orders to merely observe, his own moral code means he can’t help but light the fuse and see where it leads. Being in unfamiliar territory is familiar territory for Pickett, and corrupt-town scenarios are as old as the hills, but Box uses the ploys for maximum suspense.”—Booklist
“Exhilarating . . . Canny Joe uses his wits, taking time to assess the literal and figurative lay of the land.”—Publishers Weekly