Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Cold Country

Cold Country by Russell Rowland
Dzanc Books: 11/12/19
eBook review copy; 232 pages
ISBN-13: 9781945814921 

Cold Country by Russell Rowland is a very highly recommended character study wrapped around a murder mystery.

In 1968 Tom Butcher is found murdered one morning in the ranching community of Paradise Valley, Montana. By all public accounts, Butcher was a boisterous, popular man, although it seems more than one person may have had a reason to kill him. Blame falls quickly on the new man, Carl Logan, who recently moved with his family to the area to manage wealthy Peter Kenwood’s ranch. The community is upset that long-time ranch hand Lester Ruth wasn't given the job. It doesn't help that Carl's ten-year-old son, Roger, is causing waves by standing up to the local school bully. The investigation becomes even more complicated when it is revealed to Junior Kirby, a lifelong rancher and Butcher’s best friend, that Butcher had a secret he had been hiding.

The writing is excellent. Rowland expertly captures the small town, hard-working atmosphere of this ranching community, where everyone seems to know everything about everyone else, and all the many grievances and failings of others are not really forgotten. Lifelong friendships can be a struggle at best when you have to trust your neighbors, even amid the many reasons they might not be trustworthy. And that doesn't even include the secrets people hide.
The murder mystery keeps the narrative moving along, but the real exploration is the examination of the heart of the characters. Rowland quickly establishes his characters in the setting and shows their actions and inner thoughts, including members of the same family. The people in Paradise Valley all have many differences that should pull them apart, but they have learned to try and keep their mouths shut and work together. Butcher was not as well-liked as it seems, but it is a universal truth that it is easier for residents to point blame at the new guy rather than examine their life-long neighbors. The murder mystery is solved at the end, but the pleasure is in the journey.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Dzanc Books.

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