Blue Heaven is the name given colloquially to a beautiful area in North Idaho, where it’s common for policemen from LA and elsewhere go when they retire. With beautiful woodlands and mountain scenery, the region is changing from its traditional past of an economy based on huge cattle ranches, to become a place of luxury retirement homes. An elegy for what is rapidly becoming a lost way of life in the face of modern attitudes and harsh financial structures is central to the whole novel, personified by the character of Jess Rawlins, a cowboy in his sixties who is trying and failing to keep viable the cattle ranch which has been in his family for generations.
The plot is an exciting one. Monica Taylor is a single parent with two young children, Annie and William. One day, Monica’s handsome but seemingly selfish boyfriend Tom casually offers to take William fishing after school. The children wait for him to turn up, but he doesn’t, so they take his expensive rod and make their way into the country alone. Pretty soon after they arrive at a river, they witness a terrible crime and, in their shock, are spotted by the criminals. They run away.
Monica gradually becomes more worried and calls in the police, in the form of the newly elected Sheriff Carey, a political appointee rather than experienced at detective work. He’s a weak man and easily manipulated. I shan’t give away any more of the plot as this would spoil a reader’s excitement with the several apparently unconnected stories (that one feels sure will turn out to be unified, but how?), unusual plot developments, interesting minor characters, and several surprising twists of perception and perspective. Most of the book, written by a naturally talented storyteller, is a compelling page-turner: one is desperate to know what is happening to the children. But as one gets deeper into the novel, the tone gradually shifts into a much sadder mode, as we learn more of the character of Jess and the two men who stand up with him for what is right. Despite one or two quite gaping plot flaws and (as in the previous novel I've read by this author) a somewhat contrived shootout that goes on for too long, I very much liked this book. The end of the novel is moving, and is in a very different place than one might have predicted at the start.
I thank Rina Gill of the UK publisher, Corvus, for sending me a copy of this very enjoyable novel, which won the Edgar award for best novel in 2009.
C. J. Box has written many novels, including Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, which I reviewed earlier this year.