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 )
Maxine – As ever, thanks for this fine review. One thing I like about the Pickett series is that, as you mention, there aren’t easy answers to the questions raised in the novels. To me, anyway, that shows not just authenticity, but respect for the reader. And I agree with you that the depictions of Pickett’s family are very nicely done; for me, that’s another real appeal of this series.
Glad you agree, Margot 😉
C J Box responds to being “asked about the best book he’d read recently” here:
For some reason I don’t tend to read a lot of American mysteries/crime stories, though I’m sure I’ve accumulated a fair few over the years. I think I’m afraid of stories being too familiar, though if the writer is good it won’t matter as the story will be ‘fresh’. I’ll have to look for him next time I’m at the bookstore. You’ve mentioned Michael Connelly and in your post below Robert Crais and I’m sure I have a book or two by both–so I should expand my reading horizons!
I don’t read so many American mysteries/crime novels these days either, Danielle – so many of these thrillers are “boilerplate”. One or two are always worth a read for me, eg Connelly. It was quite a pleasant surprise for me to discover these C J Box books, which happen to be appropriate for me just at the moment, though perhaps in a different phase of life they’d be less appealing. For now, they work very well.
On the whole I have found in the past few years that translated fiction is less formulaic, perhaps because I think other countries’ publishing industries may be less commercialised than the US and UK? That is, more books are published by publishers who actually read the drafts and make decisions on that basis, rather than via agent/media syndication deals or celeb memoirs or “auctions”…..
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