“Breaking Point,” by C.J. Box. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. Hardcover, 370 pages. $26.95.
By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost
Fans of C.J. Box’s 13 mysteries about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett know that Joe has been pushing his limits for some time now. Increasingly, the warden has been taking on crazed environmentalists, wacky laws and boneheaded bureaucrats.
He has found himself sympathizing more with this who break the law than with those the law is supposed to protect. He has taken on wind-power advocates and anti-hunting fanatics while finding himself sympathizing with survivalists who ignore game laws – and other laws, too.
In “Breaking Point,” as the book’s title indicates, Joe finally goes over the edge. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Joe seems to become something other than the game warden readers have come to know.
Mr. Box plots his books with intricate care, and this one is no exception. It’s based on an actual case involving an Idaho couple who successfully battled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Mr. Box’s fictionalized account, corrupt EPA officials conspire to deprive a Wyoming couple of use of their land. Shots are fired, agents die, and most of the book revolves around efforts to track the purported killer, who is on the run in the Bighorn Mountains.
This is familiar turf for both Mr. Pickett and Mr. Box, who is a master at depicting chase scenes through the wilderness. This time, he throws a forest fire into the mix, compounding violence with sheer terror.
There’s a fine twist at the end, one that left at least this reader thinking that he ought to have seen it coming but didn’t. And the final pages are meant to raise doubts that Joe Pickett will ever work as a game warden again.
Mr. Box says he wrote “Breaking Point” in a “red-tinged fury” after hearing of the Idaho case. That may not be his best writing mode. He is compulsively readable, far too disciplined a writer to let his emotions get the best of him, but the same doesn’t necessarily hold for his characters.
Joe Pickett is the straightest of arrows, a dedicated family man, a reliable hand in a crisis, unswerving in his dedication to justice. If he decides that government service is too corrupt to deserve his talents, then what hope is there for real reform?
Let’s face it, Joe: Bad guys don’t just work for the government. They show up everywhere. No matter where you turn, you may find yourself working under some of them.
In a fistful of his recent books, Mr. Box has made villains of those who are supposed to be protecting the environment. Let’s hope he remembers that sometimes the bad guys are those who are out to despoil it.