Blue Heaven by C.J. Box starts when little Annie and her brother William, while walking in the North Idaho woods stumble upon a group of four men, who they witness executing a fifth man. Immediately the siblings get spotted by the killers, and they are on the run. Later they end up on the farm of Jess Rawlins, a rancher, who is broke and whose ranch is on the verge of foreclosure. The local Sherriff, overwhelmed by the incident of missing children, accepts the help of the same four killers, who happens to be respected ex-LAPD, for helping him in the search of the missing children.
Officially C.J. Box has become my favourite author, period. What a piece of crime writing. With this book he took the extreme risk of pointing out the good and the bad guys from the very beginning. Normally I don’t appreciate this type of crime fiction, where the element of suspense or detection is not much present. As was the case here. From page one we come to know the four bad guys, we find out the victims on the run, we also recognise the hero of the story. But, instead of getting bored by the format of the novel, I got hooked to it from the beginning. Box using his talent as a writer created moments which were full of suspense, created characters who were not totally white, but various shades of grey. And to keep the ambience of a crime novel intact, he even threw in a subplot, which at the beginning looked like a subplot, but in the end merged with the main storyline, and formed the base of the motive for the crime. Another point scored by Box was the creation of the 4 killers. He made them feel real, cold, brutal, cunning and ruthless. And the fact that he made them ex-cops also added a feather to his hat, as this made the culprits more villainous, as it showed that it can get real bad when the saviour turns into the hunter.
Jess Rawlins, I wish there were men like you in real. They used to be, but now you are an extinct breed. What a man, what a hero. Never the knight in shining armour, he fights his own personal tragedies and his fear, to save the siblings. The scenes where he sees his ranch slipping away from him, and where he sees his son, but fails to communicate with him in a normal way, can get the heart bleeding in the toughest of men. I wish there were many more characters like him in fiction and in real life.
Lastly, the setting of North Idaho. Although I like reading crime novels set in exotic places, but if the novel gets interesting I gradually start losing interest in the setting, concentrating more on the plot. Here that was not the case; he made me feel the weather, the surroundings and the people of North Idaho. He made it impossible for me to ignore this aspect, and wrote about the place in such a way that by the end of the book I felt that had Blue heaven been set in any other place than North Idaho, the book would have lost 50% of its charm.
This book goes highly recommended for all crime fiction fans. Read it not as a suspense novel, but as a western where you know the outcome, but still want to read it as it is set in a beautiful place, full of cunning criminals, a hero with a big heart and personal tragedies, a damsel in distress, and most importantly of all, read it because it is written by a great author, who knows how to write.
P.S. If possible read the last 50 pages with a Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack playing in the background.