The opening of “Long Range,” C.J. Box’s 20th Joe Pickett adventure, is reminiscent of the beginning of his triple award winning debut novel, “Open Range.” Pickett is a Wyoming game warden based in Saddlestring. This riveting first chapter describes the step-by-step trajectory of a bullet fired from an ultra-long-range specialty rifle.
Meanwhile, Pickett is on a horse in unfamiliar territory helping with the Predator Attack Team near Jackson Hole. Apparently, a rogue pair of grizzlies has attacked and killed a local guide in the area. The tourist who was with the guide is reluctantly returning with the team to locate the bears and the body.
Suddenly, Pickett is called back home. An attempt was made to kill local and abrasive Judge Hewitt, and the judge is now raving mad and wants all hands on deck to find the shooter. When the law enforcement team meets back in Saddlestring, it is obvious that joining forces with state troopers, the police chief, the district attorney and Pickett’s office is going to be thwarted by newly elected Sheriff Kapelow. This is a big case, and because the shooting took place outside town, he intends to run the investigation.
Those who have read the previous exploits of Joe Pickett know that Pickett has several reputations: One is that he is basically a Boy Scout, another is that once he starts an investigation, he doesn’t quit. Some law enforcement officers think game wardens don’t have much experience with “real” crime. In Pickett’s case, they couldn’t be more wrong.
Nate Romanowski, Pickett’s best friend and master falconer, is back for this book and is leading a life of virtual normalcy. In the past, Romanowski lived off the grid and mostly outside the law. A man of many talents and a former special forces soldier, he now has a legitimate business. Yarak, his company, uses falcons to rid properties of problem birds. Romanowski is even married to Liv, his business partner, and they have a small baby daughter, Kestrel. Things are going well for the new family.
Pickett and Romanowski are on opposite paths. Romanowski is just starting his family, while Pickett and wife, Marybeth, are new empty-nesters. The Picketts have three daughters, Sheridan, April and Lucy. Marybeth is the director of Twelve Sleep County Library and has helped Pickett with investigations in the past. This time will be no different.
As the hunt for the shooter intensifies, an insidious threat that is a result of what transpired in “Wolf Pack,” the last book, causes Romanowski to fear for his family. As Pickett strives to whittle down the list of suspects, Sheriff Kapelow is running roughshod over his deputies, Pickett and anyone else who interferes with his theory of the crime.
Although Box crafts what are considered police procedurals, he expertly intertwines the home lives of the Picketts. It is a refreshing approach that counters the traditional lone warrior fighting crime on his/her own.
Box has expertly woven together a tense action-filled story, a true page-turner, which incorporates greed, unrequited love, revenge and the worst of luck – luck that destroys lives and puts some favorite characters at ultimate risk.
This is a great read to help stave off boredom during this bizarre time of self-isolation and social distancing.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.
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