By C.J. Box
Putnam. 384 pp. $27
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Oline H. Cogdill
Best-seller C.J. Box's finely tuned series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is known for showing how environmental issues affect not only ecology, but also people, jobs, and lifestyles.
In Off the Grid, Box goes a little off the grid himself by tackling the hot-button issue of terrorists and government interference, delivering an even-handed look that illustrates the gap between perceptions and reality. As usual, Box doesn't let his theme bog down a good story. Off the Grid is filled with high suspense, formidable characters, and an action-packed ending more vivid than most movie finales. Environmental issues again play a prominent part, as does Box's usual focus on the importance of family.
Box's 16th outing with Joe Pickett works well as a tense thriller, a solid western, and a family drama while respecting the tenets of each. It's not so much Joe's story as it is that of his friend Nate Romanowski, a war veteran, a falconer, and a loner who does live off the grid. Nate's extreme skills with a weapon and his ability to survive in just about any circumstance make him the person you want in a bad situation. But Box has never made Nate a "superman," keeping this character realistic. Nate seldom shows his feelings to the world, but he cares deeply about Joe and the game warden's family and Olivia Brannan, his long-time girlfriend.
Nate has been living off the grid because of some trumped-up federal charges. Despite that, Nate is offered a deal by two shadowy federal agents who say they are members of a covert government group called the Wolverines: Spy on Muhammad "Ibby" Ibraaheem, the son of an ambassador, and the charges against Nate and Olivia will disappear. Ibby, a once-promising journalist, has been living off the grid, too, in Wyoming, and the feds suspect he is organizing a terrorist cell. They believe Nate can connect with Ibby because both are avid falconers. Something certainly is going on when Nate shows up at Ibby's encampment in Wyoming's Red Desert. But he has another surprise when he finds Sheridan Pickett, Joe's oldest daughter, also is there.
Alternating chapters show Nate settling in at the compound and Joe at work, dealing with a rogue grizzly bear and ruthless hunters, as Box brings the two men together in a believable plot. Off the Grid never falters as Box again delivers an exceptional thriller.