Shadows Reel by C.J. Box

“Shadows Reel” is not the place to start the Joe Pickett series. Never mind that it’s the twenty-second instalment — really, the expanse of a series should never prohibit new readers from jumping into the fray — but C.J. Box’s latest picks up directly from last year’s stellar “Dark Sky,” with Joe’s old pal, master-falconer Nate Romanowski teaming up with Black Lives Matter activist Geronimo Jones to hunt down Axel Soledad, who we last saw beating Nate’s wife, threatening his baby, and stealing his birds. 

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Review: Dark Sky by C.J. Box

“Dark Sky” is another stellar C.J. Box thriller, his long-time hero Joe Pickett outgunned, outmanned, and adrift alongside a terrified Silicon Valley multibillionaire in the rough terrain of the Bighorn Mountains as temperatures plummet. Of course, the Wyoming game warden has demonstrated a propensity for overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds in his 20 previous adventures — but that doesn’t stop his 21st from being another page-turning success.

In “Dark Sky” Joe is tasked with guiding Zuckerberg-clone Steve Price, CEO of social media company Aloft, on an elk hunting trip. Price, who logs every moment of his life online, wants a genuine no-holds-barred experience, and the governor wants to ensure Price gets his wish; his hope is that Price will be so enamoured with the landscape, he’ll build Aloft’s enormous server farm in the county, creating jobs, and furthering the governor’s political career.

Things go to hell very quickly when Earl Thomas and his sons arrive on the scene, seeking vengeance on Price for the death of Earl’s daughter, who committed suicide after being trolled and bullied on Price’s social media platform. Their thirst for revenge is perhaps a tad flimsy, and it allows Box to offer social commentary on the dangers of our digital lives — but just go with it. Ultimately what matters here is that they’re the bad guys, they armed to the teeth, eminently capable of murder, and Joe Pickett is the only thing standing between Steve Price and certain death.

A subplot involving series-favourite Nate Romanowski, ex-special forces turned falconer, and his protégé, Joe’s eldest daughter Sheridan, is really more of a tease for Box’s 22nd Pickett novel. Someone is stealing valuable birds of prey, a very bad dude indeed, we discover; but just as this plot builds up a head of steam, it’s quickly snuffed out when Nate is dragged into Joe’s situation.

“Dark Sky” has all the elements I love most about this series, utilising the unforgiving landscape to great effect. Box’s novels always work best when the Wyoming environs play a key role. And every time I finish one, I can’t wait for the next. Is there a more consistent writer of high-quality crime fiction than C.J. Box?

ISBN: 9781788549325
ISBN 10: 1788549325
Imprint: Head of Zeus GB
On Sale: 04/03/2021
Pages: 368
List Price: 32.99 AUD

Review: Long Range by C.J. Box

x293“Long Range” — the twentieth Joe Pickett novel — is a companionable entry in the series that sees the Wyoming game warden’s irrepressible ally Nate Romanowski — baddest of ex-military badasses — the primary suspect in the attempted assassination of Twelve Sleep County Judge Hewitt. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a Sinaloan drug cartel hitman named Orlando Panfile has arrived in Wyoming to avenge the deaths of the four assassins Nate dispatched in “Wolf Pack” (2019). Incarcerated by local authorities, Nate is helpless as the killer closes in on his wife and newborn.

This is standard fare for C.J. Box and his longtime hero Joe Pickett. But it would be crass to lament that we have seen and read it all before. I love Box’s strong cast, the tendrils of continuity that exist between his books, and his evocative descriptions of the Wyoming landscape. His novels are distinct for it. Certainly, in many respects, “Long Range” is made out of pieces of Joe’s previous adventures, not much of it new, but rest assured, each element is polished to a gloss, and the pages fly.

The trouble is, it’s hard to sustain suspense when we know, deep down, none of our heroes are going to be permanently damaged. Bruised and battered, sure — but nothing more than that. So by centring the drama around their mortality, which we know is never truly in question, rather than the complexity of its mystery, the book actually becomes less dramatic. Entertaining, for sure; and fans will love their annual visit to Twelve Sleep County, and checking in on Joe, Marybeth, and their daughters. This book may not be as knuckle-biting as Box’s best, but his taut, clean writing ensures his latest is never anything less than gripping.

ISBN: 9781788549288
Imprint: Head of Zeus – GB
On Sale: 09/03/2020
RRP: 32.99 AUD

Wolf Pack by C.J. Box

y648In his nineteenth Joe Pickett novel, C.J. Box reminds readers that among the weeds of the seemingly idyllic Twelve Sleep County is a world filled with violence, fear and anger. What begins as a routine inquiry into the misuse of an unregistered drone aircraft that terrifies a herd of mule quickly spirals into something far more menacing and deadly, as Joe, Katelyn Hamm and Nate Romanowski, are pitted against a quartet of savage killers.

It is Joe’s counterpart in Shell County, Fish and Game Warden Katelyn Hamm, who spots the massacre of the mules, and urges Joe to aid her investigation when the rogue aircraft heads into his turf. Joe obliges, and traces the aircraft to the compound of the mysterious Bill Hill, whose arrogance astounds Joe; Hill is fearless, and is certain he’ll face no charges for his crime. More worrisome for is his assertion it will be Joe who is reprimanded should he even try. And sure enough, two surly FBI agents from Washington DC soon arrive in town, who first warn off Katelyn, then Joe, who doesn’t take kindly to overzealous officialdom. Rather than accede, Joe’s interest in Bill Hill is piqued; but just as he closes in on the truth about Hill, a kill squad attached to the Sinaloa drug cartel make their own move; and Joe and his allies are caught smack bang in the middle.

Wolf Pack coruscates with everything needed for a humdinger of a thriller: a cast of characters you care for (and have since day dot), a plot that thrums, and a denouement that lands like a gut punch. Joe Pickett’s 20th can’t come soon enough. Somehow, impossibly, this series just keeps improving.

ISBN: 9781788549240
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 5-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom



Review: The Disappeared by C.J. Box

The DisappearedAn eighteenth round of trouble for Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett brings with it the gripping story of suspense—laced with heavy emotion and family drama—that readers have come to expect.

C.J. Box has reached that highest echelon of crime writers thanks to the sheer brilliant consistency of his novels, which makes reviewing the latest Joe Pickett novel rather difficult, because there’s really nothing new to say, just a refrain of my usual chorus: if you’re not reading this series, you’re missing out on one of the genre’s A-Grade authors, and one of its best characters.

Enjoyment of The Disappeared doesn’t necessarily hinge on your familiarity with what’s come before, but it helps. The Joe Pickett series has always leaned heavily into continuity between novels, various characters popping up in primary or secondary roles as each instalment hits. Readers have harboured suspicions of the new governor, Colter Allen, since his brief introduction in an earlier novel; this time we get to see our mistrust come to fruition. Joe was a reluctant troubleshooter for the previous governor, and Allen can’t see why the game warden wouldn’t be happy to maintain his role.

In this instance, he wants Joe to investigate the disappearance of high-profile ad-agency CEP Kate Shelford-Longden, who vanished somewhere between Silver Creek Ranch and Denver airport several months ago. Allen is feeling the pressure from various forces, both international and domestic, and has decided that Joe’s got a better shot at discerning what happened than the Carbon County Sheriff  and the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation.

Thankfully, Joe has an in: his daughter, Sheridan, works at Silver Creek as a horse wrangler, and got to know Shelford-Longden during her stay. So, too, did Sheridan’s new boyfriend, Lance, who also works at the ranch, and is the latest in a long line of young men looking to break the Pickett curse of falling for questionable personalities.

As if the Shelford-Longden case wasn’t enough, Nate Romanowski—the “outlaw falconer” Joes been specifically ordered to keep away from— soon enters the picture to ask Joe a serious, and seemingly unrelated, favour. These dual investigations unspool with superb velocity, and as always, the highlight is less the heart-pounding moments of action, rather the superb banter between characters. There’s a soap-operatic quality to these stories now, and I say that with the greatest respect; while the crime and its subsequent investigation in Box’s novels are always rendered adroitly, I’m just as interested to see how the various members of the Pickett family are faring.

C.J Box remains an original voice in American crime fiction. Even better, as we approach the twentieth entry in the Joe Pickett series, The Disappeared shows there remains plenty of territory for the author to explore.

ISBN: 9781784973186
Format: Paperback (228mm x 145mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 19-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Vicious Circle by C.J. Box

9781784973148In the 17th Joe Pickett novel, C.J. Box wraps up a long-running plot thread involving the nefarious Cates family. While it’s not a standout entry in the long-running series starring the never-far-from trouble Wyoming game warden, it’s a finely-tuned, suspense-filled thriller that will satiate veteran readers, and certainly intrigue newcomers into catching up on the Pickett family’s (mis)adventures.

It all begins when when Dave Farkus — longtime troublemaker and unlikely partner in many of Joe Pickett’s inadvertent escapades — phones Joe from Stockman’s Bar to say he’s overheard a conversation about Joe and his family. He’s cut off before he can provide any concrete information, but the implication is clear: the Pickett clan’s a target. And when Farkus turns up dead — brutally executed by unknown assailants — Joe know something is amiss. He quickly ties it together — presumably at least — when he discovers Dallas Cates, the disgraced rodeo star who ran off with Joe’s daughter April, dumped her out of his truck, and ended up in the prison, has just been released, and is out for vengeance after the deaths of his father and two brothers. But is everything really as open-and-shut as that scenario suggests?

Vicious Circle will resonate most for those who are keenly aware of the two families’ fraught history; readers who’ve been waiting for the final showdown for a couple of books now, knowing it would be vicious and bloody. There isn’t much new here — this is the C.J. Box formula perfected — but the Joe Pickett series is one that hasn’t surpassed its use-by date, and still provides plenty of action and excitement.

ISBN: 9781784973148
Format: Paperback (228mm x 145mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 21-Mar-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Trophy Hunt by CJ Box

81RC-jkzxoLWhen Joe Pickett and his daughters stumble upon the mutilated carcass of a moose during a fishing trip, the game warden doesn’t realise this is merely the start of a systematic, coordinated attack on the residents of Saddlestring, Wyoming — the question is, by who? Because these cuts are too meticulous — too precise — to have been done by an animal, not even the grizzly on the loose and stalking the surrounding area. Which leaves only some sick, twisted individual, or individuals. Or something otherworldly…?

C.J. Box throws a touch of the X-Files into his fourth Joe Pickett novel, and while he never goes full-throttle — fear not, readers, little green men are not responsible for the desecration — the layer of possibility, of Joe actually contemplating the veracity of the supernatural rumour spreading like wildfire throughout his territory, is deftly handled and well played. The devastating consequences of the climactic events in Winterkill resonate here, and a trace of melancholy emanates within the Pickett family – and rightfully so. Thankfully Box doesn’t labor on continuity, and allows new readers the chance to catch up quickly – the true sign of a master at work.

Trophy Hunt is a smartly structured, solidly executed thriller, executing intertwined plot threads with authority that long-time readers expect. It’s packed with the expected twists and turns, and while I wouldn’t call it vintage Box – its opening chapters meander slightly, and lack that grasp-you-by-the-collar intrigue of the preceding novels – it’s another engaging page-turner that’ll inevitably find you hunting for the next one.

ISBN: 9780425202937
Format: Paperback / softback (173mm x 108mm x 25mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Penguin USA
Publisher: Penguin Putnam Inc
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Off the Grid by C.J. Box

Off the GridC.J. Box’s long-running Joe Pickett series continues to thrum along nicely with Off the Grid, the sixteenth entry. This time, Box eases off on the Pickett’s familial dramas – they’re there, just marinating in the background, destined to be spotlighted in a future installment – and notches up the action and adrenaline, with Nate Romanowski at its centre.

Romanowski shares the lead with Joe Pickett in Off the Grid, who has become an essential element of the series’ canon. When the novel opens, Nate is living off the grid, recuperating from events in the previous novels, when he is approached by enigmatic government operatives and offered to have his criminal record expunged if he assists in the destruction of a domestic terror cell. Of course, when you’re dealing with mysterious government officials, all is not what it seems – not that Nate has much of a choice. Meanwhile, Joe is running a seemingly incongruent investigation, which unexpectedly intersects with Nate’s mission – and the resulting firefight puts both men, and Joe’s daughter, in serious danger.

The best C.J. Box thrillers utilise the Wyoming backdrop and its environs, and that is the case with Off the Grid. While the gunfights and action set-pieces are certainly thrilling, it’s the quieter moments – like when Joe is left stranded in the desert, surrounded by nothingness – that truly stand out and elevate the novel above its competition. In a genre saturated with urban landscapes, Box’s novels always offer a delightful breath of fresh air.

Off the Grid is a fast-paced, action-packed thriller and another high-point in a series that shows no signs of diminishing. As always, you’ll finish the latest C.J. Box novel and immediately begin the countdown until his next.

ISBN: 9781784973100
Format: Paperback
(228mm x 145mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 10-Mar-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Badlands by C.J. Box

Badlands coverCalling Badlands a ‘standalone’ is a bit of a misnomer. While it is indeed a break in C.J. Box’s long-running Joe Pickett series, Badlands follows on from The Highway, which itself followed on from Back of Beyond, which all stemmed from Three Weeks to Say Goodbye. There is a continuity to these novels, separate from Pickett’s, and while each can be enjoyed as distinct entities, plot tendrils do follow on, dipping into spoiler-territory, which might tarnish reader’s enjoyment of the earlier works. My advice: jump back and read them all; Badlands will still be here when you’re done. Back of Beyond, in particular, is one of my favourite crime novels.

Badlands stars Cassandra Dewell – – a character we’ve met before – – who has just landed a new job as chief investigator of Bakken County, under the leadership of Sheriff Jon Kirkbride. The Sheriff underlines the difficulty of the task facing Cassie; North Dakota’s sudden oil boom has sparked an escalation in population, and with it, crime; the winter climate is arctic, and unlike anything Cassie has ever faced; and her own colleagues are not to be trusted.

Her first day on the job sees Cassie investigating a fatal car accident. The vehicle was carrying a stash of methamphetamines, with an astronomical price on the street, and it has gone missing. Actually, it was commandeered by a twelve-year-old Kyle Westergaard, a kind-hearted, but mentally-challenged since birth by foetal alcohol syndrome. His decision to take the drugs ignites a conflict between the Sons of Freedom, Bakken County’s regular drug-sellers, and a bunch of Salvadorian upstarts, called MS-13, who go about their business in particularly brutal fashion.

Cassandra Dewell is a fantastic heroine, who epitomises the real-life struggle of law enforcement officers; she demonstrates plenty of attitude and expertise, but is occasionally undermined by her own self-doubt. She is still struggling with events from The Highway, but is determined not to let it show, or impact the investigation. I would welcome her return.

Badlands is a suspenseful, adrenaline-charged procedural. Its unrelenting pace means readers will get through it no time, breathless, and desperate for Box’s next. A Grade-A crime novel.

ISBN: 9781781852859
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Head of Zeus
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: 30-Jul-2015
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Endangered by C.J. Box

Endangered CJ BoxThe fifteenth Joe Pickett novel, Endangered, picks up months after Stone Cold, which didn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, but left plenty of loose threads. When we last saw Joe’s eighteen-year-old foster daughter, April, she’d run off with rodeo champion Dallas Cates, who’s family name is synonymous with malevolence in their local community. When we hear of her again, in the opening pages of Endangered, she has been beaten and dumped on the side of the road, barely breathing. The outlook is bleak. Perennial boy scout Joe Pickett is certain Dallas is to blame, and wants revenge; the kind he’d typically rely on Nate Romanowski to deliver. But Joe’s ally is in federal custody, and himself soon the target of a brutal attack. First April, then Nate: all in the space of a week. Are the two events connected? Joe is determined to find out, even as he runs a parallel investigation involving the slaying of sage grouse.

Nate Romanowski has become a crutch in C.J. Box’s long-running series. He’s the Wolverine of Wyoming, in many respects; a ruthlessly efficient killer, willing to do what’s right, even when what’s ‘right’ doesn’t comply with the law. Whenever Joe had a problem, or was unwilling to get his hands dirty, Nate was there, willing and able, and readers loved him for that. In Endangered, Box wisely takes Nate off the table; still a presence, and an essential character in Joe Pickett lore, but disposed of in this episode. His withdrawal allows Liv Brannan, Nate’s girlfriend, to step into the spotlight; as strong-willed as Nate, and tough-as-nails, but without the Special Forces training. She finds herself in a dangerous situation, tied to Joe’s troubles, raw willpower her only ally. She is a welcome addition to the cast.

There is a confidence to Box’s prose. Endangered is an expertly penned thriller, a page-turner punctuated with moments of real emotion. At its heart, this series has always been about family, and that is what has separated the Pickett thrillers from their competition. Inevitably all long-running fiction develops soap opera sensibilities, and readers will have to dampen their incredulity at the Pickett’s unremitting run of bad luck, but these characters have never been anything less than genuine. Their familial bond is refreshing in a genre swarming with protagonists who are alcoholics, or widowers, or nomads, or a combination of all three. Joe Pickett is, and will always be, regardless of whatever wild circumstances he finds himself faced with, a family man. And that family has never been under greater threat.

HarperCollins Australia