Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett has had to deal with a lot more than fish and game licenses whole we've been following him through the pen of C. J. Box, but the discovery of his mother-in-law's latest husband displayed very publicly and very dead may cause him the most trouble of all. A falling out following 2010's Nowhere to Run has left him without the help of his friend Nate Romanowski, and the people investigating the death don't trust him because of his closeness to the whole matter. Domestic issues with their foster daughter April and with his oldest daughter Sheridan off at college complicate matters for Joe, and by the time Nate does re-enter the picture, he has issues of his own to handle.
Box's smooth storytelling style is on good display here, and he's left out some of the silliness that has plagued recent entries of the series. The twists and turns of the investigation can be a little confusing, and Joe often has similar confrontations with different law enforcement folks who want him kept out of things for reasons of their own. Cold Wind doesn't completely escape the silliness, though, as the ending sets up a pretty much unnecessary exploration of Nate's past that strays a good distance from the upright family man doing a hard job that's been the strength of the Joe Pickett series. That will play out in Force of Nature, but it does minimal damage here.
While his "Prey" series with Lucas Davenport has been in a little bit of a retread mode for the last few books, John Sandford has been a little more adventurous with his investigator-at-large Virgil Flowers and continues that in Mad River. Three teenagers have begun a robbery and killing spree like something out of Natural Born Killers or In Cold Blood, and Virgil is tasked by his superiors with leading the hunt. None-too-bright local law enforcement and the blind luck and blood lust of the fugitives are working against him, and the more Virgil digs into the case the more he's convinced that there's a lot more to this case than simple thrill-killing.
Even when he does tend to coast, Sandford is a top-notch writer and in Mad Blood he's not coasting. Every so often he's leaned into a kind of bratty style redolent of a middle school locker room, but here he gives his characters more of the wry and cynical humor you might expect from intelligent men regularly facing humanity's seamy underbelly.
At two different points, Virgil faces the choice to either take the law into his own hands or confront those who do, and he makes different decisions each time. One of them should have consequences later in the series, but it remains to be seen if Sandford follows up on that. If he does, Sandford might be taking a step forward with his work, actually digging into the human condition through genre fiction. That would be a welcome read for someone of his talent, but we'll have to wait and see if it happens.