There is a blink and you might miss it moment in CJ Box’s latest novel, The Disappeared (better known to his scores of fans as #JoePickett19), that goes a long way towards explaining the attraction of his books. Nate Romanowski – who, for the uninitiated, is a long running character with a somewhat unorthodox approach to getting his questions answered – finds himself face to face with an enormous windfarm known as Buckbrush.
“If he were king, he thought, he would require every California politician who mandated “green” energy as well as ever citizen who would be the recipient of the electricity produced at Buckbrush to come see the massive complex where their power actually came from. He’d make them walk the steel perimeter and look inside the fence at what they’d built on top of a wild game migration corridor. And he wouldn’t allow them earplugs to protect them from the punishing whoosh.”
The Disappeared is more of a standalone Pickett book (they tend to be either the resolution of a long-burning feud involving recurring characters and various members of his family or standalone tales), so actually functions as quite a good jumping in point if you feel like dabbling but are somewhat overwhelmed by the 18 previous books. All you need to know is that Joe Pickett is a game warden who often finds himself stumbling into trouble – trouble that the no good bureaucrats who dog his every step would probably want to hush up in some way. This time around, the new Governor of the State of Wyoming sends Joe on a special off the books mission to Saratoga in search of a missing English tourist. As you’d expect, pretty much from the get-go, Joe senses there is more to the mystery than meets the eye (various law enforcement officials are evasive when it comes to his questions, someone turns over his hotel room and steals the file with all of the info about the missing English tourist). It wouldn’t be a CJ Box novel if there wasn’t a half dozen twists and turns in the first 100 pages alone.
In some respects, the missing English tourist is a maguffin to get Joe (and Nate, of course – don’t forget Nate) to Saratoga where they become embroiled in a case that involves a terrible, night-burning oven, eagles, windfarms and (probably as you’d expect if you’re a long time reader) people who consider themselves above the law (in a way that usually calls on Joe to behave in a somewhat “Western” fashion). But we drew your attention to the wind farm quote at the beginning of this review and we said that gave readers a potential clue as to why Box is so interesting. We all of us exist in our little echo chambers these days. What Box does that is so interesting is confront you with something that you think is pretty black and white (green energy – surely a good thing), and challenge you to realise that precious little in this world is as straightforward as you would think. And he does that within the claustrophobic parameters of a page-turning crime novel that hardly lets up from the very first chapter until the very last.
The Disappeared also struck this reader as being evidence of Box continuing to raise his game. In some ways, and probably as a result of the fact that Pickett is taken out of his usual stomping grounds, The Disappeared is a little more concentrated than normal. At the same time, however, the narrative is amped up, to the degree that it positively thrums with reasons to – just, you know, read another page, to just, you know, get to the end of this chapter, to just, you know, put off sleep for another hour and another and another until – can it be? – you’ve stayed up all night and read the damned thing cover to cover. We’ve liked Box pretty much from Open Season onwards but even with that taken into account, The Disappeared feels like a better than usual outing.
Any Cop?: If you like crime fiction and you’ve yet to dabble with a Box, we heartily recommend that you jump in here and then, if you like what you read (which you will – I mean, durr!), read the rest. Good times guaranteed.