By Ryan Steck
March 11, 2019
Joe Pickett, America’s favorite game warden, is back in Wolf Pack, the latest novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author C.J. Box.
When a high-tech drone leads to the death of wildlife in Wyoming, a female game warden follows it into Saddlestring, which, as readers know by now, is Joe Pickett’s territory. That’s how Box opens his latest thriller, and it doesn’t take long for Joe to go after the drone operator, only to be shut down by the FBI—who offer him few details other than the fact that tens of thousands, maybe even millions, of lives are on the line. Things don’t quite add up, and Joe, always one to pursue the truth no matter what, sets out to get to the bottom of things . . . leading to a dangerous encounter with a group of assassins linked to a Mexican drug cartel, and a deadly showdown that’ll leave longtime fans of Box’s series absolutely stunned.
Those who’ve followed me for a while know how much I love this series. For my money, it’s hands-down the best franchise in print right now, regardless of genre. Now nineteen books in, nobody has developed a cast of characters quite like Box has since introducing readers to Joe and Marybeth Pickett in Open Season. Back then, the Pickett girls, Sheridan, April, and Lucy, were all little kids. Now, they’re young women and only Lucy—a high school senior and the star of the school play—is still living at home.
Their rapidly approaching status as “empty nesters” is just one of many changes Joe and Marybeth are adjusting to when readers catch back up with them here. They’re also settling into a new house, after Joe fought to get his job back following the ending of last year’s The Disappeared, and other issues that are too good to spoil here. Likewise, Nate Romanowski, Joe’s longtime friend, continues his transformation from wanted outlaw to a semi-law-biding citizen. As always, he’s here by Joe’s side when trouble goes down, but even with all they’ve been through, they’ve never faced a danger like this before. And readers should beware . . . not everyone will make it out of this one alive.
Thankfully, just before heading out on his book tour, Box agreed to go back on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about everything from what kind of research he did for this book to whether or not he ever worries about running out of good story ideas. See the full Q&A below, then make sure to order your copy of Wolf Pack, in stores everywhere Tuesday, March 12th.
TRBS: Wow! What a book . . . I’ve read everything you’ve ever written, and I honestly think Wolf Pack, for a number of reasons, is your best novel yet. How did you come up with the plot idea for this one?
Box: Thank you – that’s really high praise and I appreciate it. I start every book with two or three issues or themes I want to research and write about. Some of them come from the headlines and some come from overheard conversations. In the case of Wolf Pack, I was interested in the use of drones in hunting and fishing, the explosion of fentanyl use and abuse across the United States, and well-meaning federal programs that can go very bad on the ground. As I thought about those three ideas and how to link them the book started to take shape. It’s hard to describe sometimes how the connections get made, but everything came together when I added two female characters in Wyoming game warden Kaitlyn Hamm and ruthless cartel assassin Abriella Guzman.
TRBS: You’re known for doing a lot of research for your books. Whether it’s climbing up into a wind turbine or touring different locations, you always seem to go the extra mile to get things right. What kind of research did you have to do for Wolf Pack before actually sitting down to write it?
Box: To get the perspective of a female game warden in the field, I did a ride-along with Kim Olson, a Wyoming game warden out of Baggs. We spent time together bouncing around in her pickup, checking the traps of trappers, and sneaking up on antler poachers in the mountains. We also got stuck in the snow and had to winch our way free. I learned a good deal about the underbelly of the federal witness protection program from an excellent investigative reporter in Arizona named Robert Anglen.
TRBS: Without giving anything away, there are a lot of surprises in this one. Surprises that will leave longtime readers of your series stunned. Do you plan out big twists and turns, or do some of them just present themselves to you as you’re writing?
Box: Both. Wolf Pack had the feel to me from the first pages as a kind of watershed book where Joe Pickett’s life would be shaken up. I think that’s a good thing to happen in a series so readers will never know who will make it and who won’t.
TRBS: You’re now 19 books into this series. Do you ever worry that you might one day run out of story ideas, and do you ever plan out future books or find yourself thinking down the road in terms of what’s to come for Joe, Nate, and the rest of the gang?
Box: I never think past the book I’m writing when I’m writing it. I think readers can sense it when an author is holding things back for future books down the road. I don’t like to do that and I don’t like to read novels in a series when I think the author is not giving one hundred percent effort. I’d much rather put everything I can into each book and then figure out (with my editors) what should come next. I haven’t yet had a problem coming up with ideas and I don’t think it’s going to happen.
TRBS: Lastly, now that Wolf Pack is set to come out, what’s next for you, and when can readers expect to see Joe and the rest of the Picketts again?
Box: The Bitterroots, a Cassie Dewell novel, will publish in August of 2019. It’s a very dark and twisty journey into the heart of the most dysfunctional ranch family EVER. As I write this I’m 125 pages into my next Joe Pickett novel and I’m having a blast with it. The working title is Long Range.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.