With familiar mastery, Russell Rowland, the author of In Open Spaces and Fifty-Six Counties, returns to rural Montana to explore a small town torn apart by secrets and suspicions, and how the tenuous bonds of friendship struggle to hold against the differences that would sever us.
Released November 12, 2019
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.
Complications arise when the investigating officers discover that Tom Butcher had a secret―a secret he kept even from Junior Kirby, a lifelong rancher and Butcher’s best friend. As accusations fly and secrets are revealed one after another, the people of Paradise Valley learn how deeply Tom Butcher was embedded in their lives, and that they may not have known him at all.
Cold Country Reviews
Spare the Montana writer Russell Rowland any of your guff about the romance of the West. “It was a hard, isolated, brutal life with little time for anything but work,” he declares in his latest novel, Cold Country (Dzanc Books), and only the most stubborn persist in living there—“the ones who are too mean to die and too determined to prove everybody wrong to leave.”
Obstinate folks such as these make up the Montana village of Paradise Valley, which is shaken at the novel’s start by the murder of Tom Butcher, a rancher and all-around troublemaker who had gotten on the wrong side of most of his neighbors. Butcher’s rival was the wealthy landowner Peter Kenwood, who had been bidding against him for some pasturage. Butcher has also been seen consorting with the wife of one of Kenwood’s ranch hands. Suspicion falls on Carl Logan, as well, a recent transplant to the region who has provoked the distrust of Paradise Valley lifers.
Nearly everyone has a secret, too, that risks being exposed in the glare of the investigation. Mr. Rowland takes a business-like attitude towards the novel’s plot, introducing the cast of characters and digging into 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 against 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.
Unless extreme cussedness is an idealization in itself. “Cold Country” ends at a party where all of Paradise Valley has gathered to celebrate New Years Eve. Since the murderer is likely in attendance, the 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.
– The wall street journal
“From veteran novelist and longtime Montanan Rowland (Arbuckle, 2018, etc.), 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.
Carl Logan is a former city schoolteacher who’s just moved his family—much to his wife’s chagrin—to Paradise Valley, a tiny ranching town where he’s been hired as manager of the spread owned by wealthy outsider Peter Kenwood. Carl is both a newcomer and, many believe, a kind of usurper, since Kenwood has bypassed longtime hand Lester Ruth to hire Carl. So when rival rancher Tom Butcher, a bon vivant bachelor with a reputation as a ladykiller who is in some ways both the town’s most popular and most despised person, is found beaten to death with a baseball bat, suspicion falls first and most heavily on Carl. The mystery of who’s offed Tom and why becomes the engine of the novel but not its subject or reason for being: 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.”
– Kirkus Review
“I can’t think of an easier pick for a book club than a page-turning murder mystery with multifaceted characters, a profoundly satisfying ending, and plenty to induce a spirited debate! In Cold Country, Russell Rowland places his finger on the pulse of a small Montana ranching community and the outsiders hoping to set up a home there. Writing in the tradition of Hemingway, Steinbeck, and McCarthy, Rowland’s powerful style fools with its simplicity, and he often turns his eye toward the harsh realities of daily living (stitching the wounds of livestock, facilitating a birth, disciplining a child) to uncover beauty, tenderness, and meaning. As he digs deep into the hearts of his characters, we recognize our own tangled relationships, the burden of the secrets we keep, our own prejudices, our fears of being alone, unloved, or unwanted. Like the land he writes about, this book will leave you humbled, wrestling, and in awe.”
-Susan Henderson, author of Up from the Blue
“Years ago, I wrote that Russell Rowland was like a cross between Richard Ford and John Irving. I hereby revise that opinion. He’s better. He’s warmer, more relaxed—and also more alert to the tensions between people. There’s a moment early in the book where a key character tastes some blood in his mouth during a quiet ‘neighborhood chat’. I’ve had that moment—in a faraway, very different place. I was suddenly right there in Rowland’s world, in the shadow of the Bighorn Mountains. That’s fine writing. I try not to taste blood in my mouth often. Cold Country is one of the best books I’ve read in half a century of very hard living and reading. Where it goes, I won’t even try to tell you. But this is the difference between a kind of good writing and someone who can actually tell a story. Maybe we all live in a small community.”
-Kris Saknussemm, author of Private Midnight and Reverend America
“Russell Rowland’s new novel, set in the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains, is a murder mystery of sorts, but while readers are rapidly turning pages to learn who did it, they’ll also find that Rowland is peeling away the layers of a larger mystery. How can it be that those to whom we are closest – our friends, our neighbors, our family members remain so unknowable to us? Cold Country is remarkable in many respects, perhaps chiefly in the way Russell Rowland finds extraordinary drama in ordinary lives.”