Title: Blue Heaven
Author: C J Box
Publisher: St Martin’s Minotaur (2007)
When 12-year-old Annie Taylor takes her younger brother fishing in the woods of North Idaho the children witness the murder of ‘a wavy-haired man’ and are soon running, literally, for their lives. They manage to flag down a car belonging to an old boyfriend of their mother’s and just as they think themselves safe things take another bad turn. At the same time a retired police officer comes to town because there might be a link to an old case he investigated but never solved. Slowly people start to wonder if there’s any connection between all these events and the fact that retired Californian cops have moved almost en masse to the area.
In this standalone novel Box has created a ripping yarn. It grabbed my attention immediately with a combination of beautifully described places and fast-paced action sequences. I’ve never been to North Idaho but I almost feel like I’ve seen it thanks to the beauty of Box’s words. On the very first page as he sets the scene where the two children will encounter the murderers he writes:
When the grey-black fists of storm clouds pushed across the sun, the light muted in the forest and erased the defining edges of the shadows, and the forest plunged into a dispiriting murk. The ground was black, spongy in the forest and sloppy on the trail. Their shoes made sucking sounds as they slogged upstream
I felt like I was right there watching the kids trudge through the mud and, if anything, the writing gets better as the book progresses.
There’s a cast of memorable, credible characters too and the book doesn’t really rely on a single protagonist. Jess Rawlins, an ageing ranch owner struggling to keep his land in a changing world is certainly a key character but there are other interesting people too. Eduardo Villatorro, the retired cop on the trail of the most bothersome case of his career and Monica Taylor, the children’s mother, both learn a lot about themselves as events unfold. And the bad guys too are well-rounded, believable people.
I’ve not heard of C J Box before and therefore have not read any of the Joe Pickett series for which he is well known. However, I can thoroughly recommend this standalone story which is perfectly encapsulated between two covers: an increasingly rare treat from this reader’s perspective.
My rating 4.5/5