Review of Incident at Big Sky

Review of Incident at Big Sky: The Inside Story of the Search for Two Savage Killers in Montana

Written by Johnny France and Malcolm McConnell
Rating *****

A father and son, Don and Dan Nichols, spend a year in the mountains of Montana. They are survivalists. The twenty-year-old son is devoted to his father, but he also has desires and wants that only a female can provide. The solution. Kidnap a woman. What could possibly go wrong?

That is the hairbrain idea that sets things in motion for this well-written account of a months-long manhunt. The woman the two men decide to kidnap is a biathlon athlete out jogging along an isolated trail. Her name is Kari Swenson. Since there is no way that they could have known that Kari would be out jogging that day, this is a crime of opportunity. Had they spent even a few minutes discussing their plan, they might have seen how foolish it was. Instead, they decided that they needed a mountain woman to accompany them and Kari just happened to fit the bill.

There’s no question that Kari was traumatized by the kidnapping. Were they going to rape her? Were they going to kill her if she didn’t go along? Within hours of her disappearance, a search for Kari begins. There is a possibility of a bear attack. Maybe she fell and broke her ankle.

When two searchers stumble upon the Nichols and their captive, a man is shot and killed by Don Nichols. Kari is also shot by Danny, though this shooting was accidental. Don and Dan hightail it out of there and head for the high country. Once Kari is airlifted to a nearby hospital, the search for the two fugitives begins.

The bulk of the book concerns the manhunt. There are plenty of near misses and failed attempts to keep the suspense going. One of the authors is Sheriff Johnny France who led the search for the fugitives. So you get a firsthand account of what it took to finally bring these two to justice.

In the end, both men pay a hefty price for their actions. Can you think of any punishment more severe for someone who loves the outdoors than to be locked away in a tiny cell for decades?

Don and Dan Nichols (all cleaned up) and Kari Swenson

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