We can, I think, presume by this point that only long-time readers are reading (although there must, mustn’t there, be people who pick up these books in airports and dive in, figuring they’ll get something to while away the time and can probably work out what they’ve missed, each story being relatively standalone in spite of the cumulative detail that you pick up, the cumulative characterisation that occurs, book to book to book); and if we do presume that fact, then perhaps we can dispense with such things as spoiler alerts. If you’ve read the previous 14 Joe Pickett novels, you’ll want to know if Box is sustaining his unbroken run of pretty much marvellous page-turning crime novels (he is). If you’re up to date and the last book, Open Season, is fresh in your mind, you’ll know that Joe Pickett, family man, employee of the US Forestry Service, man of upstanding character, moral rectitude, ornery son of a bitch etc, ended the last book somewhat piqued that his adopted daughter April had run away from home in the company of rodeo star, Dallas Cates.
Much like the passage of one season to another on a long-running US TV show (and Box’s Joe Pickett books scratch the same itch that great long-running TV does), Endangered begins some months later. We first meet Joe up in the mountains, where he spends a great deal of his time, investigating the apparent massacre of a lek of sage grouse, a species bubbling under the endangered list whose promotion to actual endangered species would cause a great deal of trouble for business interests in Wyoming. In the process of capturing evidence, he gets a call from Sheriff Reed who tells him a body has been found, and they think it’s April. Beaten up, left for dead by the side of the road, April is fighting for her life. As far ass Joe is concerned, there can be only one possible suspect: Dallas Cates. Meanwhile, Joe’s buddy Nate (who was practically the sole subject of Open Season) is in lock-up, finagling a deal with a hard ass FBI man called Dudley who would rather see him dead than released – a deal that would all but hobble Nate in the outside world, and a deal, it’s air to see he doesn’t have too much time to enjoy before he finds himself outnumbered, outgunned and in the back of a chopper heading to the same hospital April finds herself in.
Endangered runs on three tracks, Box evidently loving the fact he has enough readers now to get down to business all the faster. Pickett is on the trail of whoever did away with the sage grouse (despite interference from a couple of dedicated FBI agents), investigating whoever left April for dead (despite the insistence of Sheriff Reed to stay the hell out of it) at the same time as Nate’s current girlfriend, taken hostage at the start of the book, fights for her own life in a hole in the ground on the residence of… well, that would be telling. There’s hardly a page wasted. This is one of those books that grabs you by the lapels on page one and doesn’t let up until it’s given you a damned good shaking some three hundred and almost 70 pages later. In much the same way as Robert Kirkman envisioned his original Walking Dead comic as a piece of work that could just run and run, so with Box and Picket. We’re already waiting on book 16 and we only got to the end of this bad boy a couple of days ago (the whole novel devoured on an eight hour round trip cross country train journey).
Any Cop?: We all know by now CJ Box is one hell of a safe pair of hands and entertainment of the crime novel variety doesn’t come smoother than this. A huge thumb’s up from us.