Life has improved for Joe Pickett since we last saw him. His wife, Marybeth, started an accounting business and is hired by many clients ranging from small businesses to real estate. Cam Logue’s real estate company is one of Marybeth’s clients and he is a good friend to the Pickett Family. Logue’s daughter Jessica seem to fill the void left by April who died years before. Joe’s daughter Lucy and Jessica have lots of playdates at the Logue house while their parents talk business. One day Marybeth and Cam announce that they have a “secret” client who was willing to buy the Overstreet Ranch. If the client buys the ranch, then Marybeth is in for a huge payday. However, a series of unfortunate events delayed that grand payday.
It all started with a moose missing half of its face. Nobody cared. Next, a cow has its face and udders removed A string of livestock mutilations hit Saddlestring so suddenly that its residents start to panic. Since wildlife are involved, all heads turned to the local game warden to solve the mystery.
Before Joe can make an initial assessment, the Saddlestring sheriff, Bud Barnum, already has a theory in mind: a bear. Months before the mutilations began, a bear broke free from its tracking collar and began roaming the Saddlestring forest. However, Joe observed surgical-like mutilations in the cow and the moose. The cuts were too precise and the manner at which the face was torn off was too clean. Whoever committed these acts is definitely a human and not a bear. The mutilations reach the apex when two men are found murdered and mutilated with the same mutilations observed with the moose and the cow. Outraged and afraid, Saddlestring demands answers for who committed these gruesome acts. In response, District Attorney Robey Hersig forms the Murder and Mutilations Task Force (MMTF) consisting of Saddlestring’s most volatile men, effectively creating Wyoming’s most dysfunctional taskforce: Joe Pickett, Sheriff Barnum, Park Sheriff Harvey, Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation Agent Bob Brazille, FBI Agent Tony Portenson, and District Attorney Robey Hersig. Tasked with solving the murders and mutilations, the team wastes no time bickering amongst each other. While Hersig tries to keep everyone in line, Portenson breaks the tension of the room by announcing that he has solved the case. In 1974, similar cattle mutilations were observed in Montana. FBI investigation into the matter concluded the birds and gas emissions were responsible for the mutilations and poisonous plants killed the cows. Joe quickly protests the absurdity of the report, but his descent is overshadowed by the consent of the MMTF. Seeing the MMTF eagerly accept the FBI report, Joe angrily leaves the meeting to investigate the mutilations by himself.
Where does Joe go to investigate the mutilations? He visits some alien conspiracy theorists.
With no clear explanation of the mutilations, the people of Saddlestring quickly turned to aliens as the cause behind the mutilations. Infamous iconoclast Cleve Garrett is an alien conspiracy theorist who came to Saddlestring to investigate the mutilations. When interviewed by Joe, Cleve said that there was “much more” to the mutilations than the MMTF first thought. But in exchange for that information, Cleve wants to be on the taskforce. However, Joe has serious doubts about Garrett. First, Garrett is a crazy person, but he made some sense much to Joe’s chagrin. Secondly, Joe suspected that Deena, one of Garrett’s followers, is being held against her will.
Seeing no reason to trust Garrett, Joe focuses his investigation on the two men that were murdered. Tuff Montegue was the first human victim. He died from blunt force trauma to the head, and his mutilations were sloppy unlike the other victim’s. Stuart Tanner is the second victim of the mutilations, and he was mutilated in similar fashion as the livestock. The MMTF is stumped on the connection between the murders. Portenson and Barnum suggest that it was a bear that killed Montegue, but has no idea who killed Tanner. Others think it was a cult that killed both men. The last theory came from Barnum’s deputy, Kyle McLanahan, who suggested that Arabs killed the two men.
Seeing no clear connection, Joe decides to investigate Stuart Tanner’s death. When digging into the Stuart Tanner’s life, Joe discovers that Tanner was the CEO of Tanner’s Engineering, a company that specializes in checking the water quality of mining operations. If the water contains no excess minerals, then it would be safe to mine. The Tanner’s last client was the Overstreet Ranch.
Seeing a possible motive for Tanner’s death, Joe quickly rushes to confront Cam. However, events start to break down when Deena and a potential witness go missing. As Joe frantically searches for the Deena and the witness, he starts to doubt himself and question whether he can truly bring the mutilator to justice. If there even is a mutilator.
Who did it? (No Spoilers) Joe’s list of suspects:
- Disturbed individuals - Government Agents
· Arabs (stupid) · Unknown Virus
· Bird (FBI theory)
(Box, P. 132).
Looking at Joe’s list of suspects, it is clear that he is considering many possible options. [Here’s a hint at the real suspect: CJ Box has never written a Sci-Fi novel]. Still, Joe’s thinking of who the possible suspects, is a little flawed. For example, it is more viable that a group of Arabs killed cows than Aliens did. Furthermore, viruses don’t mutilate people. Lastly, does the government really gain something from killing people and cows? Steak? Possibly. Lawsuits? Definitely. Because Joe rules out these possibilities does that mean they are not viable? For example, Joe immediately rules out “Arabs” because Deputy McLanahan suggests it. Joe and McLanahan have a strained relationship, so it is possible that Joe thought McLanahan is being racist or stupid (maybe both!) However, Joe never actually investigates the presence of Arabs in Wyoming. McLanahan said that he saw Arabs going into Saddlestring. Is that something Joe should investigate? Even if is for naught?
C.J Box’s Wyoming is going through the Iraq War, since it takes place during the Bush Presidency in 2004. The possibility of terrorist attacks on U.S soil is present and could happen anywhere. Given the circumstances, investigating the possibility of terrorists in Wyoming should be something Joe should consider, but he does not. What if McLanahan is right? Who looks stupid in the long run?
Throughout the book, Joe considers many possible options/theories of who the killer actually is. He even considers an alien conspiracy theorist as a source of evidence. At first, I had no idea why Joe would give Cleve Garrett credibility in the investigation, but later I realized that it was desperation that drove Joe into Cleve’s arms. Joe and the MMTF are facing pressure from Saddlestring and Wyoming to solve these murders and mutilations. Since the MMTF cannot find an evidence trial or suspects, the investigation stagnated and the Wyoming residents are getting angry. Cold cases do not sit well with the public, speaking from experience. I was around when two of the biggest cold cases in the US and the world happened.
Remember the Las Vegas shooting in 2018? The FBI and the Vegas Police Department know who did it, but the big question is why. The theories behind the shooting ranged from political to terrorist inspiration to personal problems. Reading about the shooting and the investigation that happened thereafter left a really sour taste in my mouth (an understatement). Initially, I was deeply disgusted and saddened by the shooting. Considering that I remember the Pulse shooting clearly, I feel that I am living in a really depressing times. What really angered me afterwards was the great polarization that happened. Typically, after any mass shooting a gun debate ranges for about 1-2 weeks. Before the investigation even concludes, people are already demanding action based on raw emotions. I definitely understood where they were coming from and I shared the sentiment. I will now stop myself from going deeper into politics. But weeks after the shooting, I followed the investigation, read the timelines, and hoped that the FBI and the police get to the bottom of this investigation. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. In January 2019, the FBI and the Vegas Police practically gave up on the investigation. The FBI concluded that they found no clear motive in the Las Vegas Shooting.
Another cold case that comes to mind is the disappearance of the MH370 in 2014. I remember reading about this case a lot when I was in high school. I also remembered all the conspiracy theories that tried to explain why MH370 disappeared. The theory that I found the most viable was that the plane had mechanical failures; the conspiracy theory I found most amusing was that aliens took the plane. Still even with many nations involved in the investigation, no one was able to explain why the MH370 plane disappeared and who was involved.
Thinking about these events now, cold cases like these, I realize that I gave credibility to any theory that came to mind. When CNN, Fox, or NBC tried to uncover the shooting’s motive or why the plane disappeared, I remember just nodding my head in agreement to these narratives because, at the time, they made sense. I remember that the “pilots were depressed and suicidal” theory was the one I believed most strongly in 2014, but that belief dissolved very quickly when CNN suggested that a mechanical failure happened mid-flight. That idea implanted by CNN has stuck with me since.
While I was head strong about my beliefs in 2014, things changed in 2018. In 2018, I was more open minded as to why the shooting happened. I read and watched CNN, Fox, NBC, and even MSNBC’s takes on the report, and I closed my computer thinking- “anything is possible.” Because of that phrase, I gave credence to a lot of theories proposed by these news networks. The theories that I accepted, at the time, are that the shooter hated Republicans, the shooter had a gambling problem, the shooter was inspired by ISIS, and the shooter had a mental disorder. Still anything is possible right? I don’t know what is true.
The phrase “anything is possible” is something I tell myself whenever events are coming up or during an investigation. While I do not take the phrase literally as all events on Earth are bound by rules of science, logic, and morality. Personally, I use that phrase as some sort of acceptance, resignation to a certain extent, of what will happen. There is no way of predicting or preparing for the future. Often I find myself improving during exams, presentations, and even in daily life because the plans/preparations I made often fall apart when the moment happens. Instead of being nervous or scared of what will happen, I just accept the event as it is. Accepting bad events helps keep me calm and focused on the present. Instead of thinking “WOW, that happened! What bad luck!” while I do think that phrase many of the times, the thought that immediately occurs is “What next?” If anything is possible, what is next? I don’t know. The only thing I know is what I will do next. It is that thought that keeps me from panicking during the most critical moments.
A famous quote comes to mind, from Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.” If I get punched in the mouth, there are two things that I can do: defend against follow up attacks or counterattack (personally, I would defend against follow-up attacks). Still I have no idea what my opponent is going to do. It could be anything. I should not waste time thinking about what my opponent is going to do. Instead, I should think what I should do. What is the benefit of defending against follow up attacks? Did my opponent leave an opening for a counter attack? The ability to answer these two questions quickly is a mark of great adaptation not only in boxing but also in life.
Another interesting question comes to mind. If anything is possible are we at the mercy of the external world? Is there a way for individuals to overcome life’s most cruel moments? Or, should individuals accept that they are powerless before the external world? Should they see lives are being manipulated by external forces, pushing them as the forces see fit? Personally, I believe that individuals can overcome life’s most cruel moments. Situations often go awry because people are either too ignorant or prideful to seek an alternative path. I am a firm believer that if an unfortunate event happens, then there is always a way to either make the event a net good or a net neutral. Though it may sound arrogant, I approach life thinking that there is a way out. I do my best to avoid bad situations; however, when I encounter one, I have hope that I will find a way to beat this bad situation. When I don’t find a way it is either that I was too prideful or too ignorant to assess the situation properly and form a strategy. Each failure I experience does not weigh me down, but instead it propels me to do better in the future. When life knocks me down, I get back up stronger than before.
It goes back to the Mike Tyson quotation from earlier, the external force hits you hard. Does it make sense just to fall down with a bloody nose and do nothing? Or do you fight? I fight; I will fight to live my life as I see fit and preserve the values I have. Although society, my friends, and my family all have strong influences on my life, ultimately, it is up to me and me alone to make the decision on whether to bend or resist. Sacrificing my pride is one thing, but sacrificing my values is another.
Overall, much like Joe who considers many possible suspects, no matter how stupid (Aliens? Really?), I too consider many the theories and possibilities that can occur in an investigation or in my life. Joe and I cannot consider all possible ideas because we perceive the world in accordance to our logic and values. Of course there are obvious bad answers, but are they “obvious”? Much like Joe who considers Aliens over Arabs, I would consider theories that offer easy explanations as to what happened. Joe and I follow where the trails lead. When the trail reaches a dead end, we turn back and walk another trail. What if someone told us the trail we followed is wrong because of a reason we find sound?
For example, let’s say I am a firm believer that the chicken came before the egg. Now, let’s say that someone I really trust like Dr. Keane told me that the egg came first. Dr. Keane even gives me 5 peer reviewed articles from Nature Magazine that proves his case. How can I argue with 5 scientific papers? Its impossible from my current knowledge of evolutionary biology. Therefore, I would see if I can find 6 peer reviewed articles proving that the chicken came first. If I could not find any, then I would accept Dr. Keane’s findings. But that’s how science works. Theory is proposed; theory is rebutted; theory is rejected. If I do find scientific papers proving my case then Dr. Keane and I can have a proper debate.
Being rigid in my values is something I struggle with in my time at CNU. I do my best to be open minded but I do find, at times, twisting information in my favor. I suppose it is a natural response when my ideas are being challenged. Then I tell myself that I am being open-minded without actually putting in the work. Finding that balance between rigidity and open-mindedness helps me know who I am and what I want to be as a person. If I keep changing my values, beliefs, virtues then I would have no idea who I am. If I stay rigid in my values, I would be bigoted.
I got a slight whiff of nostalgia while writing this review. It was fun remembering the good old days of reading the MH370 investigation and talking about it with my teachers and friends. However, that nostalgia quickly turned sour once I started writing about the Las Vegas Shooting. Old feelings of sorrow and anger started to resurface and I had to stop writing in order to remove those feelings.
In the end, I particularly enjoyed thinking about my beliefs/values and reaffirming them while writing this review. My life has been a series of challenges and shortcomings. While I try to propel myself forward and grow strong with each shortcoming I find that I am still encountering shortcoming. Am I letting my guard down? Did I learn anything at all? Or, did I learn the right lesson? Sometimes, I cannot find the answer to these questions and that is what keeps me from being the best that I can be. If I grow stronger with every shortcoming, then can I reach a point where I am perfect? The answer is obviously no. I am human. Humans are bound to make mistakes and fail to live up to his/her beliefs. But that’s ok. Shortcoming, failures, challenges are a natural part of life. They make us better human beings. They show us what is right and wrong. They remind us that you can be better.
Anyways, the next book that I will be review is Out of Range in which Joe goes to Jackson Hole to cover for a game warden that killed himself. Or did he…