Cold Country

Written by Russell Rowland
Review by Tom Vallar

Tom Butcher is the second-largest ranch owner in Montana. He is also Paradise Valley’s resident troublemaker, the arm-wrestling champion of the area, and its most prominent bachelor. His New Year’s Eve parties are as legendary as his capacity to hold his liquor. When his head is bashed in by a baseball bat, the entire community holds its breath until the killer—someone in their midst—is identified.

In this tight-knit region, suspicion naturally falls on the outsider, Carl Logan, the new manager of the largest ranch, owned by Peter Kenwood. Kenwood has his eye on acquiring more property between his ranch and Butcher’s. Some of the more prominent ranch hands also have reason to cause Tom harm, as do their wives who spend quality time in Tom’s company. But the police uncover a secret Butcher was hiding that might hold the key to his murder.

Rowland captures Big Sky country in 1968 with aplomb. This is not a rough-and-tumble Western by any means, as the contemplative nature of what motivates a person to do right or wrong is his focus. The story hops between time frames even within the single year of its duration and introduces far too many points of view to keep track of. Yet even with these limitations, he reveals his mastery of the human condition through the lives of ordinary people in the state he clearly loves.