Montana, 1968: The small town of Paradise Valley is ripped open when popular rancher and notorious bachelor Tom Butcher is found murdered one morning, beaten to death by a baseball bat. Suspicion among the tight-knit community immediately falls on the outsider, Carl Logan, who recently moved in with his family and his troubled son Roger. What Carl doesn't realize is that there are plenty of people in Paradise Valley who have reason to kill Tom Butcher.
Mr. Rowland takes a businesslike attitude toward the novel’s plot, introducing his cast of characters and digging into to their respective problems like a worker carving out a posthole. Awesome natural beauty is a staple of Montana fiction, but Cold Country has little time for reveries of that sort. Much of the action is set during the 'dull season' of winter, when 'every speck of color drains from its home and soaks into the soil.' Mr. Rowland means to put paid to any idealization of the West you might still be clinging to ... the [last] scene has the quality of one of Agatha Christie’s country-house mysteries. But this is Montana, so there’s no genteel detective to finger the culprit. Instead, there’s a massive brawl and the truth is beaten free.
This story reminds readers that people everywhere hide unpleasantness, distrust newcomers, and are quick to cast doubt, even on old friends, and that bullies come in all ages. Rowland’s plot includes all family members, which makes the story riveting. No single character is the sleuth or solves the mystery ... Fans of regional mysteries will find this delightful.
...a new novel that looks at first like a murder mystery...but turns out to be mostly a dark-toned but affectionate pastoral about ranch life in rugged 1968 Montana ... This is a love letter to the small-town, rough-and-tumble, fisticuff-heavy ranch life of 50 years ago. Rowland's interest in the murder plot is mainly as a way to explore a subject that cozy mysteries generally gloss over: How do you live in a community where neighbors have no choice but to stay in close contact, to trust and rely upon each other, when you know that one of those neighbors must be a killer who's hiding in plain sight? In straight-ahead, unfussy prose, Rowland keeps the novel humming along. The mystery fizzles a bit in the end, but by then the reader will know that's not where this book's heart is. A quick-moving, plainspoken, mostly charming exploration of the hardscrabble life of the livestock rancher of old.