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Off the Grid by C J Box

The themes of C. J. Box’s “A Joe Pickett Novel” series are getting scarrier.  In “Off The Grid” Joe Pickett’s survivalist friend, Nate Romanowski, is recruited to help a super-secret special-ops unit to investigate the real intentions of a Middle-Eastern falconer who is living in a remote part of Wyoming.  The falconer’s organization has at the same time recruited Joe Pickett’s daughter’s roommate (and by extension, Sheridan) to do some volunteer work at the remote encampment.  The plot revolves around the question of how far the government should go to spy on everyone’s communication channels in order to protect against a domestic terrorist attack and what is being done covertly to thwart both government incursions on our 4th Amendment rights and on terrorist cells operating in the US.  When one of those terrorist cells infiltrates the falconer’s operation things go seriously wrong for both Nate Romanowski and Sheridan Pickett.

Box has a knack for telling a thought-provoking story, and from that stand-point “Off the Grid” is one of his best in the Pickett series.  Box doesn’t waste time preaching.  He doesn’t sensationalize.  He just tells a story and lets the reader reach his or her own conclusion.

Off the Grid” is a fast read and a hair-raising thriller with a plot that seems quite possible to occur for real.

Recommended.

Liz Nichols

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Stone Cold by C J Box

Lovers of western mysteries and thrillers are probably already fans of C. J. Box, the author of the Joe Pickett Novel series.  This is about my third time with this series and this is easily my favorite of Box’s most recent books.

In “Stone Cold” Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden, is posted to help out another game warden in the remote northeast corner of the state near the Black Hills.  Joe discovers something rotten going on in Medicine Wheel County, including the murder of a federal agent, that will eventually lead to a full-fledged FBI raid.  The nail biting question is whether the Feds can get in to take the bad guys under arrest before Joe Pickett is killed to remove his eye-witness accounting of the multiple layers of crime he uncovers.  He plays quite a cat and mouse game with the bad guys he quickly pinpoints but has to take a number of big risks in order to prove the role of an important landowner and philanthropist in the county when so many residents have been bribed or bamboozled into supporting the big-shot rancher.

I read “Stone Cold” in a couple of sittings.  It is a hard book to put down because the book is so action-packed and the characters, both good guys and bad, are so vividly drawn that it is easy for the reader to imagine being in Joe’s boots.

There is also an interesting side-story about a seemingly disaffected loner who moves in to the dorm at the University of Wyoming on the same floor as Joe’s daughter, Sheridan.  Sheridan does exactly what students who witness strange behavior are supposed to do to stop a potential campus shooting: she told her parents and they contacted the local authorities to watch this kid.  There is an interesting– and tragic– twist to this story toward the end of “Stone Cold” that will generate a lot of discussion around dinner tables between parents and their high school and college age children on a topic that is timely, thought-provoking and chilling: how to stop shootings and other random acts of violence on campus.  The book points out that stereotypes can lead to bad conclusions, but that vigilance is needed despite the danger of making a mistake.  Parents of troubled teens particularly need to get help early and often and not try to hide potentially unstable behaviors in the hopes that they will go away.

Stone Cold” is a thought-provoking addition to the Joe Pickett series and well worth reading for many reasons.

Liz Nichols

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Cold Wind by C. J. Box

Cold Wind” is a combination western, mystery and thriller set in Wyoming.  It is the 11th in the Joe Pickett Novel series by C. J. Box who lives in Wyoming with his family.  He has won many award for this fiction including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, Gumshoe and Barry awards.  His protagonist, Joe Pickett, is a game warden not far from the remote Hole-in-the-Wall canyon that served as the hide-out for the infamous Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and other outlaw gangs.

Joe’s mother-in-law, Missy Alden, is accused of killing her husband, Earl by shooting him and stringing the body up on the blades of one of the wind turbines Earl built on one of the hills on his ranch.  This was property they essentially cheated out of Missy’s former husband, Bud Longbrake.  Bud has been hurt and resentful ever since and is also threatening to tell the court how Missy talked him into helping her get rid of Earl because her current husband was threatening to divorce her.  Missy hires one of the best defense lawyers in the country to present her defense.  Joe agrees to investigate the case and search for the missing Bud Longbrake even though he has never gotten along well with his selfish and over-privileged mother-in-law.

Meanwhile, Joe’s friend, Nate Romanowski, is hiding in the hole-in-the-wall canyon because there is a contract on his head from The Five, a group of black-ops he has worked with who know Nate has enough dirt on each of them to put them away for life.  He doesn’t figure on the source of the trouble that actually comes looking for him in that canyon hide-away while he is camping out with his girlfriend, Alisha.

Cold Wind” is very descriptive, action-packed and highly entertaining.  We get to understand what motivates many of the main characters, whether we agree with their rationales or not.  Joe and Nate especially live by a code that was more typical of the 19th century wild west than the 21st century.  Essentially the old west ethos is brought into the 21st century by virtue of the heavy-duty automatic armament that is brought to the battle.  The information about the flaws in the wind energy business and all the money to be made purely in government subsidies is also a slice of the 21st century and quite eye-opening.

What I don’t find appealing, especially in view of the many acts of gun violence this year, is the glorification of these assault weapons and the ease with which the main characters can justify their use of these weapons to kill people.  There are many instances of vigilante justice, and no one is punished for it. This is common in thriller and western genres where the protagonist is allowed to go after a bad guy (or gal) himself and take them out without any consequences.  I don’t like the message, but as a plot line, it makes for exciting reading.

Liz Nichols

 

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