4.5 stars out of 5
This is something like the 17th book about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, and since I've read most of them, by now I consider Joe a good friend. There's another reason I love the guy: As those who have read my past reviews most likely are tired of seeing, Joe and I share a surname. In fact, that's what got my attention in the beginning. This one, though, is extra-special for another reason: It was released in the United States on my birthday (March 21). How cool is that?
But of course, name- and birthday-sharing aren't automatic guarantees of loyalty to any series; great stories are. One thing that's kept me going is that over the years, is that it's been fun to watch Joe and his family grow. By this time, daughter Sheridan has graduated from the University of Wyoming, April is attending Northwest Community College, leaving only daughter Lucy still living at home. Joe's wife, Marybeth, is director of the Twelve Sleep County Library. Joe's job is going fine and all's right with the world.
Or not. At the opening, Joe is a reluctant passenger in a plane that's circling the mountains of Wyoming (way too close to the trees for Joe's comfort), looking for a hunter who's been reported missing. They spot what they think is him - along with three other humans - and the ending of that discovery isn't good. Back on the ground, Joe's also trying to track down a big poaching ring that's killing off elk, worrying about a blizzard that's about to hit and, worst of all, dealing with the realization that old enemy Dallas Cates (one-time boyfriend of April) has been released from jail. Because Joe was largely responsible for destroying the rest of the evil Cates family, he's concerned that Dallas's first order of business will be returning the favor.
When April's life is threatened, Joe knows for certain that he's right. But an attempt by local authorities to put Dallas back in jail goes south, leaving Joe and his family vulnerable once again. Toss into the mix appearances by Marybeth's totally irritating, gold-digging mother, Missy, and Joe's long-time friend, professional falconer and off-the-grid expert Nate Romanowski, and you've got the makings of another action-packed adventure.
So what motivated me to take this one down a half-notch from 5 stars? A few things needed a bit more fleshing out, IMHO; it's hard for me to believe Joe and his family - no matter how seasoned they are to misfortune and even the threat of personal danger - could have taken some of what happened to them so much in stride. Then too, Nate, while he still has his edge, just seemed a little too "normal" here; and not as much activity happens in the great outdoors (which to me is one of the pluses of the series). The ending, too, seemed a bit abrupt (almost as if the allocated word count had been reached and there was no choice but to stop or go back and chop somewhere else). Still, it's close enough to perfect for horseshoes - and I'm already looking forward to the next one.
Vicious Circle by C.J. Box (G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 2017); 377 pp.