After 11 award-winning Joe Pickett mysteries and two previous stand-alone thrillers, C.J. Box now adds a third thriller with Back of Beyond.
This adventure takes readers to Montana and to the far reaches of Yellowstone National Park in Boxs home state of Wyoming. In this new novel, Box reintroduces Cody Hoyt, who made an appearance in 2009s Three Weeks to Say Goodbye.
Cody is not the most agreeable or probable hero; on page 1, readers learn that he has just shot the county coroner. Cody is a Lewis and Clark County Sheriffs Department investigator with a few problems, both on and off the job. Only two months sober, and after leaving the Denver police force under a cloud, Cody is on edge. Using a rogue cop with a drinking issue is a bold choice for a protagonist, but Box manages to pull it off.
Avid fans of the Pickett series will welcome Boxs use of the same essential ingredients that make his previous mysteries hum with tension and action. The story opens in late June when Cody is called to investigate the discovery of a body. When Cody arrives and discovers the body is his Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sponsor, Hank Winters, he refuses to believe his partners theory that Hank fell off the wagon and burned himself to death.
As Codys investigation continues, he discovers that Hank, or possibly his killer, has searched the Internet for information about a trip to Yellowstones Thorofare area. When Cody learns that his 17-year-old son, Justin, is about to leave on that same trip with a group, Cody becomes convinced that the killer is a threat to Justin and the others. After being suspended for accidentally shooting the aforementioned coroner, there is nothing that will stop Cody from finding and protecting his son.
The proverbial ticking clock drives the frantic pace when the action moves to Yellowstone Park and follows the 12 participants on Jed McCarthys Wilderness Adventure in the Back of Beyond. Beside Jed the outfitter, there is Dakota, Jeds wrangler, and clients as varied as a married couple in their 60s, to a single man and woman, a dad with two teenaged girls, Justin and his future stepfather and three 30-something Wall Street types out for adventure (think City Slickers).
Box uses the opportunity of strangers in an unfamiliar landscape to acquaint readers with the nuances of the remote Yellowstone wilderness. The landscape is a character in this tale, because most of the action takes place outdoors in a realistically drawn setting teeming with true wildlife. Even though Yellowstone has 2 million visitors a year, only a few make it into this remote region where public access is severely limited.
Complexities and quirks make up the colorful and memorable. This applies especially to Gracie, who at 14 years old still has the vulnerability of a child but grows strong and resourceful when confronted by evil on the side of a mountain.
Box also introduces Bull Mitchell, a former outfitter who takes non-cowboy Cody on the trail after the Wilderness Adventure group. Cody first meets Bull while hes reading a childrens story to youngsters and his wife who suffers from Alzheimers. This gives Cody pause knowing that he needs a strong ally on the trip ahead. But when they head into the wild, Cody sees a competent and tough man who knows how to survive in the Wyoming wild.
Its clear from the first page of Back of Beyond that Box has done his research well. The portrayal of AA, its members and how it functions rings true. His knowledge of the nooks and crannies of Yellowstone and its four-legged inhabitants and their hunting and eating practices brings a healthy fear to normal city-dwellers. The pages crackle with electric tension and suspense, and characters with hidden agendas drive the plot. These characters plumb the depths of base human emotions and affect relationships that are changed forever.
This story grabs the reader and doesnt let go until the explosive end.