Endangered, the latest Joe Pickett novel by C. J. Box is the best yet of the series. There are all the right ingredients: a realistic plot, well developed characters, a vivid setting, clear prose and ratcheting tension. Box merges detailed descriptions of Wyoming’s landscape, western culture, and the personal drama regarding Pickett’s family into a thrilling action packed novel.
There are three storylines that appear autonomous, but at the end are weaved together brilliantly. The first is related to environmental issues and government overreach. Box made it very clear what could happen to a state’s economy when the Federal Government decides to put a bird, in this case the sage grouse, on the endangered species list. Besides having to deal with a personal tragedy Joe must outwit the Federal Bureau of Land Management, officials of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The tragedy is the second storyline involving Pickett’s adopted daughter April. After running away with the local bad boy/rodeo cowboy Dallas Cates several months ago, she is found beaten horrifically in a ditch along the Wyoming highway. Joe suspects Dallas Cates but he and law enforcement are thrown roadblocks by the Cates family, including the mother who is manipulative and cunning. Box superbly writes how Joe must tread the fine line between being a father and a law enforcement officer. This storyline is relatable to any parent, especially with the quote, “a parent’s worst nightmare.”
Box explained to blackfive.net, “This is the first time in the series where one of Joe’s daughters is severely injured in a very violent way. I wanted parents to understand the tension Joe must go through when receiving the phone call. I know what my reaction would be. Like Gabby Giffords April had a medically induced coma. I had a doctor give me their opinion on how to write these scenes. People are put in a coma until the brain swelling goes down. Sometimes they fully recover and other times they could have brain damage. Readers will find out what happens by the end of the book.”
The last sub-plot has a cameo appearance by Falconer, Nate Romanowski. He is forced to cooperate with the FBI, being used as bait to catch the billionaire gun for hire Wolfgang Templeton. But this storyline involves more of Nate’s girlfriend Liv Brannan who is being held captive by the Cates family after Nate is critically shot. As these sub-plots intertwine it becomes obvious Joe is intent on finding the truth behind the killings of the birds, the attempted murder of Nate, the beating of April, and the disappearance of Liv.
The general theme of the book is a Libertarian’s dream, the overreach of the Federal Government. These few quotes from the book hammer the point home: “We can do whatever we want, we’re Government,” “That’s why I hate explaining a business plan to a bureaucrat who’s never worked in the private sector in his life,” and “Nobody in a federal agency ever gets fired.” Of course what comes to mind are the numerous scandals of the Obama Administration.
Box noted, “The state’s rights versus the federal government fuels many of my Pickett novels. Think about how much of the western states lands are controlled by the federal government. For example, 50% of Wyoming is federal land so this state really does not have autonomy. There is a movement going on that has started in Utah where the state legislatures are demanding the Federal government sell their land back. The quotes came out of my personal experiences with some government employees who have the attitude that they can do anything and never have to worry about losing their job. They start to think of themselves as officials instead of what they truly are, servants of the people. This attitude runs amuck now. I wanted to show how a bad egg, maybe someone with a chip on their shoulder, who works for the Federal Government can make life hell for someone else.”
Endangered is a great read that is fast-paced, suspenseful, and action-packed. Within the storyline readers can get a glimpse of important issues that relate to the current day as they take a journey along with the characters. A word of warning, make some time to read this novel in one setting because no one will want to put it down.
C. J. Box also gave a shout out about his up and coming books. The next Joe Pickett novel will be centered on Nate Romanowski and his attempt to free himself from the FBI’s control while reuniting with Joe. Another book, out this summer, Badlands, features a character, Cassie, from the last stand-alone novel, The Highway. It takes place in North Dakota’s oil fields and is described as a “modern Wild West,” that includes the drug trade