5 stars out of 5
From the beginning - when I first learned of this series featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett - I was hooked. Pickett, after all, is my maiden name; and while it's not all that uncommon, it provided me with a link I simply couldn't resist. Add to that an interesting character, plots set in remote areas of Wyoming and surrounding parts, and when I finish one I eagerly await publication of the next.
This is the 16th, I believe, and yes, it's every bit as good as its predecessors - despite the fact that the topic is less than appealing to me. With all that's going on in the world today, the absolute last thing I want to read about - even if it's fiction and the good guys and gals win - is anything even remotely connected to terrorism. This one dives into those waters with both feet, with a terrorist cell that ultimately threatens the lives of Joe, his "off the grid" falconer friend Nate Romanowski and at least one person very close to Joe (not to mention the United States as a whole).
Nate, it seems, has been on the lam for some time, trying to avoid capture by a government that would love to see him back in jail. Unfortunately for him, a couple of special operators finally catch up with him. But rather than put him in chains, they make an offer: Help us destroy a terrorist cell that's taken up operations in Wyoming, and we'll wipe out any hint of your criminal record.
With little choice but to agree, Nate reluctantly sets out to infiltrate the cell. When he meets the leader and learns the agenda, though, he has second thoughts about his mission. The goal is to destroy a government activity that threatens the freedom of this country's citizens - not the citizens themselves - and the activist in Nate finds it hard not to sympathize. But true to his word, Nate puts his personal feelings aside and sticks to the task at hand.
Meanwhile, outgoing state Governor Rulon (with whom Joe has a special working relationship) calls Joe in to request a last favor before he leaves office: Follow Nate into the Red Desert and find out what he's up to. Somewhat reluctantly, Joe agrees. But as if all this weren't enough, a giant and vicious grizzly bear has gone rogue and developed an affinity for human meat; and Joe's daughter Sheridan's college roommate cajoles her into joining a group of students out to save the world by helping with a clandestine "project" somewhere in - you guessed it - the Red Desert.
As with all the other books, this one stands alone just fine; but I will emphasize that it's best to start somewhere closer to the first if the series is new to you. A big part of the interest, at least for me, is watching Joe's family grow up over the years. With the first book, Joe became one of my all-time favorite book "heroes" - and he's earned his place on that list with every installment since. This may not be my favorite of the series, but it's well worth reading.
Off the Grid by C.J. Box (G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 2016); 380 pp.