The second of CJ Box’s Joe Pickett series opens a little like Paul Auster’s Leviathan: in Leviathan, a bomber who we later learn has been blowing up Statue of Liberty replicas throughout the US explodes himself by the side of a road; in Savage Run, a fiery political activist is killed by a bomb that many believe he was strapping to a cow in the Targhee National Forest, having long campaigned against the owner-occupying farming sorts who let them graze there. Joe Pickett, Game Warden, eight miles away from the bombsite, is called in to investigate – and as with Open Season, it isn’t long before he is caught up in opposition to the kinds of people who quite literally normally get away with murder.
Pickett’s position is interesting. On one hand, he has an obvious disregard, nay contempt, for those people who have the money to buy the laws they want. At the other extreme, he doesn’t quite ally himself with activists who think anything is called for in the name of change. So, on this occasion, there is a character called Jim Finotta, a lawyer with some highly placed friends who Pickett catches out poaching out of season – Finotta tries the velvet glove of ‘what can I give you?’ before donning the (one suspects more comfortable) position of threats (calling Pickett’s boss and pleading harassment). At the other extreme, you have Stewie Woods, an old boyfriend of his wife’s, and the person many think was exploded in the woods – it doesn’t give too much away to know that Stewie is alive and well. If the first Pickett book, Open Season, felt like a doffing of the hat to Pelecanos, Savage Run feels much more confident. We’re firmly in Elmore Leonard country, particularly with the two elderly gentlemen hired to work through a list of politicos and activists in order to make the world safer for those who already have quite a lot thank you very much.
There will always be people who scoff at crime novels and wouldn’t pick up a CJ Box novel (or a George Pelecanos novel or an Elmore Leonard novel or a James Ellroy novel) if their lives depended on it. There are those of us, however, who don’t tend to get caught up in some debates. There are good crime novels and bad crime novels (just as there are good literary novels and bad literary novels) – CJ Box is firmly in the good crime novels camp.
Any Cop?: Last December, I’d not heard of his name before. Two books in to the series, I’d have to say I’m becoming a committed fan. Intelligent crime fans! Sit up! Pay attention! Get on the Box train!