Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Heaven in a Box

One of the best things about being a judge on a book awards panel is that people tend to tell you about recent crime novels you might otherwise have missed. Blue Heaven, by the redoubtable C.J. Box, who does such a tremendous job with his series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, is a superb stand-alone thriller, set in an Idaho town where LAPD retirees go to live -- and die, some of them violently. It came out this past January, and seems to have received the shortest of shrift. Shame on us reviewers for missing it.

What Box does so well, without wasting a word, is to create an insular and frighteningly plausible community in North Idaho where Mark Fuhrman, the LA cop who sank the O.J. Simpson prosecutor's case, has a radio talk show and many of the citizens share his conservative bias. It's the kind of town where a Hispanic officer from Arcadia notices that he's the only non-Anglo on board the flight to Spokane. (It's his refusal to let go of a cold case, a robbery at Santa Anita, that sets off the ensuing bloodbath.) But it's also home to some good people, notably a courageous banker who has held a dark secret too long and an old rancher (a perfect film role for Sam Elliot) who protects two children who witnessed the killing of a retired LAPD officer and now are in flight from the killers.

In a word, heaven.

Incidentally, please don't let that embarrassing case of copycat covers unearthed by Jeff Pierce of The Rap Sheet keep you from reading Michael Genelin's Siren of the Waters, reviewed below.

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