“Off The Grid” by C. J. Box brings back Nate Romanowski, the beloved rugged individualist. This book delves into a number of themes, some of which Box has become known for: getting the federal government to acquiesce to the states, a contemporary Western, a solid description of the western landscape, and the issues facing western states.
But, beyond that, he explores the possibility of how terrorists can use technology to harm Americans, the vulnerability of U.S. communication systems, and the overzealous government surveillance. It might seem that a lot of issues are covered in the novel, but Box has a knack for brilliantly intertwining everything.
The plot begins with Nate and his girlfriend, Liv, living in obscurity on a remote Wyoming ranch, enjoying hunting and his falcons. Some rogue federal organization finds Nate, because Liv decides to telephone her ill mother.
A deal is made to destroy Nate’s criminal record for his help in locating a terror cell in Wyoming’s Red Desert. Nate’s master falconer skills are needed to give him an “in” with the Muslim, Ibby, who is also a master falconer. Meanwhile, game warden Joe Pickett is asked by the Wyoming governor to stop the tracking of a grizzly bear and instead track down his friend Nate. Coincidentally the bear, Nate, and Joe converge at the Red Desert. Also there is Joe’s daughter Sheridan who has decided to go on a weekend camping trip. All unite in an attempt to thwart the terrorists before they can destroy the U.S. electrical infrastructure.
The idea for the story came to Box after hearing FBI Director John Comey say there are terrorists being tracked in all 50 states. Box got the idea “after a homeland terrorist attack, national security comes to the forefront, but as time passes we put it on the back burner. I think that a terrorist plot happening in far-flung Wyoming is not as crazy as it sounds. I started to think about Wyoming, what could potentially happen here, and what would be the target. Nobody in the U.S. should feel immune. Attacks will not always happen in New York or Washington. I put a lot of the information in the book on how every electronic device can be killed by an EMP, if in the vicinity of the pulse. It would be a devastating attack.”
The title, “Off The Grid,” is very apropos since it represents two plot lines. Literally, the terrorists are attempting to destroy the electrical grid that would incapacitate the U.S., and figuratively as Nate attempts to become a hermit, to be left alone in peace. He has been living “off the grid,” having no electronics, credit records, bank records or tax records. Nate is content to live deep in the wild, flying his falcons and avoiding contact.
Anyone wishing for the return of Sheriff Matt Dillon will enjoy this storyline. The gunfights with the terrorists are taken right out of any Western battle. Even the weapon used is an “Apache” helicopter. One scene in the book has Nate shooting out the trucks, which represent horses being shot out from the villains. Readers can vividly picture the gun battle as the shoot out occurs behind covered rocks. Even Joe’s “cowboy” hat is affected by this gunfight, being ridden with bullets.
As with all his novels, Box is informative about western culture. In this case he gives insight into the western setting, grizzly bears and falcons. His vivid descriptions of the harsh and remote, but beautiful environment, allow the reader to feel as if they are there.
“Nate was based on someone I grew up with,” Box said. “This guy was a Falconer who went into a special forces unit of our military. I made Nate part falcon because his qualities are similar to those birds. He is definitely the ultimate Falconer. He is described as a libertarian homicidal folk hero. Based on his moral code, he will murder first and ask questions later. In all of my books with Nate I put something about falcons. In this one I had in the book how Nate had the ability to go as still as one of his hooded falcons. I also compared in the book how falcons identify, attack, and kill their target, to what Nate did with the terrorists.”
He also commented, “There is a theory that the more the grizzly is studied and thus, comes into contact with people, the more likely they will lose their fear of humans. The number of grizzly bear attacks has grown. I read about this one bear that traveled thousands of miles and even slept in an elementary school playground. I decided to put it in the book. Also true, is that grizzlies have been known to actually track hunters. Sometimes it appears the researchers tracking the bear seem more worried about the health and welfare of the bear than the hunter being tracked.”
“Off The Grid” is a warning of sorts in that it shows how U.S. national security is vulnerable to a terrorist attack. It is not only informative, but challenges peoples’ minds as they learn about western culture. To date this might just be one of Box’s best.