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May 9, 2010 / C.T. Henry

REVIEW: Out of Range by C.J. Box

C.J. Box has made an indelible mark on the mystery scene ever since his 2000 debut novel, Open Season, which won the Anthony, Barry, and Macavity awards for best first novel.  A few prolific writers, such as Nevada Barr and Tony Hillerman, set their mysteries in the expansive American West, but no one has ever featured a Wyoming game warden as the protagonist.  In this 5th Joe Pickett novel, Box moves Joe out of the comfortable environs of Saddlestring to the highly visible and rough district of Jackson.

Out of Range opens with the death of a fellow game warden in Jackson, and Joe is selected to replace him temporarily.  Ruled a suicide, Joe doesn’t believe that his predecessor took his own life.  However, his plate is full with a hotheaded real estate developer, an unsavory hunting outfitter, and a dedicated animal right activist – all of whom benefitted from the late game warden’s timely death.

Box just keeps getting better and better.  Joe Pickett not only fills the dead man’s shoes, but people in Jackson soon mistake him for the late game warden.  In all things, these two men are alike.  Box asks: What if Joe falls prey to the same circumstances that befell his predecessor?  Would the outcome be any different?

One of the great pleasures of reading a C.J. Box mystery is way in which controversial issues surface to enhance the plot.  In Out of Range, Box highlights the meat industry and weighs the pros and cons in an examination of the “Good Meat Movement”.  Living far away from the rural areas where their food is produced, most Americans have lost touch with the sources of their food.  Not only is this a brilliant mystery, but there’s an important ethical message here as well.

Verdict: GOOD BUT NOT GREAT (Translation: Recommended with some reservations)

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