Out Of Range by C J Box
|Out Of Range by C J Box|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A decent enough page-turning mystery in the stunning wilds of Wyoming, but suffering slightly from mid-series fatigue.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: June 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
Will Jensen, a Wyoming Game Warden of many years standing, had long held the respect of the townsfolk of Jackson. Recently though he seemed to have been going off the rails. Not turning up for work on time; a couple of DUIs; his wife upped and left. Then one day he cooks himself 14lb of meat. No vegetables. And slowly eats his way through it, washed down with whiskey, before he goes to fetch his .44 magnum from the pick-up.
The news that his friend and fellow-warden has killed himself is something Joe Pickett refuses to accept. It's the beginning of the hunting season, and Jensen's area is the biggest and richest around. For the wild-life service that means it's the most vulnerable. Sleep County can probably do without Joe for a while, so he's asked to head over to the Tetons to take over the Jensen's patrol.
For Joe it's both an opportunity to advance his career and maybe also find out more about what really happened. He's hardly likely to say no: even though things have been a bit strange at home recently.
Out of Range is the fifth in the Joe Pickett series, currently running at eleven, and a number of clues and back-references are given throughout as to the story so far. These are necessary not because the current plot depends upon them, but because they elucidate Joe's character and why he generates the reactions he does, from his own family, and more especially from those in authority. It is made abundantly clear that he has ruffled a few high-ranking feathers along the way. (He also seems to have a James Bond reputation for damaging company property and, like the spy, an insistence that it is all entirely unavoidable.)
When he gets to Jackson two things hit him – everyone comments on how much he reminds them of Will – and there is a major political issue around a proposed new development, which would sit right in the middle of the wildlife migration routes.
The first doesn't faze him – even his wife has commented how alike the two families were – but the second doesn't smell right. It's hard to see how it could have anything to do with Will's slide into drunkenness and the erratic behaviour that prefigured his death, but it keeps bleeping Joe's internal radar.
Slowly he steps, quite literally, into Jensen's shoes: his job, his office, his ranger-station-house, through a bizarre event even his pick-up… when he starts to have night-terrors, he wonders if he's also seeping into the same insanity…
Meanwhile, back in Sleep County, the Pickett family continue to receive anonymous phone calls. The ex-sheriff is propping up the bar trying and failing to maintain his previous standing in the community. And there's a stranger in town: a stranger with a gun.
The scene is set for a slow-building thriller, redolent of the wide open spaces and the lawless backlands.
It got some great press. Some of my favourite authors, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Tess Gerritson, are among the A-list endorsers of Box's writing.
But in this humble reader's opinion if this is typical of the series then I'm afraid it doesn't quite live up to the hype. Box doesn't come close to any of them.
The pace is too slow. The twists are too few and not sharp enough. The strands can be seen coming together from the other side of the range. The pace isn't helped by Box's insistence on giving new readers the back-story. No matter how much skill is deployed in trying to work it in to rational dialogue in the current context, it still feels a bit laboured. The shame about that is that it's completely unnecessary. Series fans will know all that stuff, and not knowing it wouldn't detract from the current story at all.
If Box had opted for a couple of early asides to set Pickett up as a maverick and then treated the rest of the book as a stand-alone, it would have stood stronger. The plot is self-contained. The linkages can feed from and into the series, but they're not crucial.
As it is, even if you've dived straight in without checking the blurb and frontispiece, you know that you're mid-series. So you know that the hero has to get out alive.
You also know you're going to get an ending which is a clear set-up for a future episode. Or to put it another way: not a proper ending at all.
For me, this took all the 'edge' out of a brilliant premise. Entertaining enough, but don't go out of your way for it.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: If the backdrop to the book captures your imagination and you’d like more murderous intent from Wyoming’s remote hills, check out Angels Fall by Nora Roberts.
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