After leaving the Army, Everett Dawson has a new job as a stock detective out of Montana. His first assignment is to investigate some missing cattle in the Crazy Mountains. It looks like rustlers have been stealing cattle from all five of the area ranches. Even worse, when Everett arrives he finds there is a dead cowboy in what looks like suicide, but which others claim was murder.
The local sheriff sends Everett to meet Lawrence Jackson, the man who runs the Lazy Twenty Two ranch where Carson’s body was found, and the last person to see him alive. Law is not an easy man and kind of a hot head. He seems to have clashed with virtually everyone in the Crazies, and he is convinced that Carson would never kill himself. When Everett finds evidence that seems to support Law’s theory, the two set out to try to find out what happened to Carson and who is behind the cattle rustling.
The more Everett digs into the mystery, the more complicated things get. The Crazy Mountains are wild and untamed and the people who live there have a long and intertwined history. When more people turn up dead, it is clear that something bigger is going on than anyone ever expected. As the men spend more time together, Law and Everett start to build a connection. But at the same time, Law seems to be tied up in just about everything involving the case and Everett needs to decide if he can trust him. Once he does, they must figure out who is behind the murders and the thefts before the killer turns their sights on them.
Hell and Gone is an engaging romantic mystery/suspense that is enriched by Tal Bauer’s incredible ability to bring the fascinating setting to life. The story is twisty and well developed and I never quite got a handle on who was behind it all until the ending reveal. What is clever here is that we know as readers from the first chapter that Carson was murdered, just not who killed him. So while Everett and other law enforcement aren’t sure whether this is a murder or suicide, as readers we know the truth all along, but are watching as everyone sorts things out. I found Everett’s role as a stock detective very interesting, as it is nothing I have ever heard of before. Basically, he works law enforcement for the Department of Agriculture investigating cattle thefts. This is Everett’s first assignment, but he was military police in the Army so he has great tracking skills and I enjoyed watching him work the case and put the pieces together. Things get exciting at the end and it is a well done mystery.
As I said, I think what really elevates this story is the atmosphere of the remote Crazy Mountains. This is a part of the country that is virtually desolate. Law notes that of the 2000 square miles that fits in their police jurisdiction, there are only 1000 people. This is a hard, wild land where only the strong can survive. With so few people, everyone knows each other and their history is all intertwined. It makes for complex relationships that Everett has to try to untangle as he investigates. Bauer really paints such lovely pictures of the beautiful, unspoiled land. Most of these areas are barely accessible and the men can go days without seeing another soul. I found it all fascinating, being a suburban girl within an hour of two enormous cities; I can barely imagine what it must be like to live in such a place. And Bauer really drew me in with his descriptions of the beautiful, desolate land and the people who have it in their blood.
The relationship between Everett and Law develops nicely. It may be a bit fast in real time, but these guys are together 24/7 in an intense situation, so I could give it a pass. Both have had rough pasts; Everett, in particular, is still scarred deeply. But there is something about being together that just eases both men. I found them an engaging couple and I enjoyed seeing their romance flourish amidst the case.
So I really loved this story and am incredibly impressed by the way Tal Bauer is able to evoke the atmosphere so clearly and to make it work perfectly within the story. I enjoyed the mystery and the romance and the setting really moved me. This one is definitely recommended.