Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Book review: "Off The Grid," by C.J. Box

Red Desert locale holds deadly secrets

By Leslie Doran
Special to The Denver Post
March 6, 2016

"Off The Grid," the latest C.J. Box novel about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, takes readers into new territory. Instead of the usual stomping ground in the wilds of Wyoming's Bighorn mountains, he travels to the state's barely populated, six million-acre Red Desert, which spills over into both northern Utah and Colorado.
As this adventure opens, Joe's longtime friend Nate Romanowski returns (after nearly dying in the last book, "Endangered"). While Joe is a stand-up citizen, Nate has a sketchy past with the law. He is living off the grid, wanted by the Feds. Nate and Liv, his girlfriend, are in hiding on a friend's ranch in southern Wyoming.
The abrupt appearance of two members of a mysterious government agency known as the Wolverines ends Nate's escape from the law. They intend to recruit Nate for his special skills, including his reputation as a master falconer to help them find the son of an ambassador to the U.S. from the Middle East.
These agents claim concern about national security, since the missing man's last known location was the Red Desert. They are worried that his disappearance near a facility where data from many government facilities involved in the war against terrorism is stored could be a major threat.
Meanwhile Joe is up in his beloved mountains on his 47th birthday. He is heading home for a family birthday dinner when he gets a frantic call for help by some researchers who have lost track of GB-53, a GPS-collared 500-plus pound grizzly bear who wandered over into Joe's territory from Grand Teton Park.
It is the first day of hunting season and the woods are full of potential human targets for a hungry grizzly. When the worst happens, Joe must deal with the consequences and track the dangerous predator into unknown territory.
Then eccentric Wyoming Governor Spencer Rulon calls Joe for a meeting. Rulon is leaving office and wants Joe to look into reports that something might going on in the Red Desert and also he thinks that the Feds have sent Nate there on a mission. He wants Joe to pursue the missing grizzly to the Red Desert, using it as a cover to find out what is going on.
Box also brings Joe's daughter Sheridan, a college senior, into the action by sending her on a camping trip with her weird roommate, Kira. Apparently Kira has connected with a group of volunteers online who want her to work on a mysterious worthy cause located in the wilds. Since Kira is a city girl from California, she has neither equipment or experience for this and begs Sheridan to come along to help.
These are but a few of the many threads woven together by Box. Eventually the action centers in the remote Red Desert, where normally the only inhabitants include pronghorns, hawks and a herd of wild horses.
Box is master at involving issues that affect the West. The old versus the new. Environmental concerns versus new development and energy extraction. Endangered species protection versus use of private lands. Fiercely independent Westerners. Box plumbs these issues and integrates them skillfully into Joe and Nate's lives, causing big problems and sometimes threatening their lives.
Readers will race to keep up with the action.

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