Book Review: Below Zero by C J Box

Below Zero by C J Box
Joe Pickett #9

Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, here in his ninth outing, is still freelancing for the eccentric state governor Rulon. He’s in the process of rescuing a wounded eagle and catching the couple of petty criminals responsible for shooting it when he gets a call from his wife Marybeth. Her news is shocking – April, the Pickett’s adopted daughter who was killed in a misguided FBI operation six years ago, has apparently contacted Sheridan, the couple’s oldest daughter, on her cellphone. Could April really still be alive?

Plagued with guilt about his (blameless, in fact) role in April’s death, described in Winterkill, Joe immediately asks the governor for leave of absence while he attempts to track down the caller. He’s quite severely limited by the mores of teenagerdom, however, because April, if it is indeed her, will communicate only with the 17-year-old Sheridan, and only by text message as she claims to be in a situation where it is too dangerous for her phone to ring.

Joe begins to pin down both the location of the girl and to find out more about the situation she is in (which the reader knows more about than he does, and which is certainly precarious). I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but a couple of nutcase-whackos who are determined to reduce the global carbon-dioxide budget off their own bats are at the core of the plot. This motivation and the actions it inspires are too bizarre for me to find very interesting – though in the USA nothing is too mad to be true, I suppose.

As usual with this strong series, there are plenty of redeeming factors: the domestic elements are very strongly depicted- the family relationships involving April are particularly poignant. And the author has plenty of pithily conveyed observations about the terrible effects on children when parents or guardians are utterly irresponsible as well as being members of an extremist-survivalist cult, a double-whammy for poor April six years ago and part of the reason for Joe and Marybeth’s lasting guilt about her.

Below Zero, as with the previous novels in this series, is a compelling read, particularly if you have been following Joe’s earlier travails. The author is adept at providing sufficient variation in each novel to avoid bland formula, while building on previous events to create a believable world in which we care about what happens next to Joe, Marybeth and their daughters. He’s also solid on not providing easy answers to the dilemmas he proposes, whether personal, political or social. I’m hanging on in there for the next instalment(s).

I purchased this novel, published in paperback in the USA by Berkley crime in 2010. Corvus is publishing the entire Joe Pickett series in the UK during 2011 (see announcement at Crime Time).

About this book at the author’s website (providing more details about the plot than I do here), with excerpts from reviews. Read full reviews of this book at: Spinetingler (brief); Gregg’s Stuph-n-Junk (good review despite title of blog!); and Bookreporter.com.

My reviews of the previous novels in the series:

Open Season (# 1)

Savage Run (# 2)

Winterkill (# 3)

Trophy Hunt (# 4)

Out of Range (# 5)

In Plain Sight (# 6)

Free Fire (# 7)

Blood Trail (# 8 )