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Review: C.J. Box delivers suspenseful wilderness thriller with 'Back of Beyond'
"Back of Beyond" (Minotaur Books), by C.J. Box: More than 2 million people visit Yellowstone National Park each summer, but only a handful ever venture into the Thorofare, a wild and glorious landscape that spans the Continental Divide. Home to grizzlies and wolf packs, it is the most remote wilderness in the lower 48.
Cody Hoyt is a native of Montana, but he isn't much of an outdoorsman, and he's far from being at home on a horse. Still, he's riding into this trackless landscape with only an old, broken-down outfitter for a guide.
Cody was born into a family of drunken criminals, and like the rest of his family, he's got a big problem with the bottle. But Cody is no outlaw. He's a lawman. Given his propensity for breaking every rule, including the one that says you aren't supposed to shoot somebody in the knee to get him to talk, he's the sort of lawman you never want to meet ' unless you are in desperate trouble and need his help.
And the person in trouble now is his estranged teenage son, Justin.
"Back of Beyond" is a stand-alone thriller from C.J. Box, author of 12 previous crime novels, 10 of them featuring a Wyoming game warden named Joe Pickett. Box's "Blue Heaven" won the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for the best novel of 2008, but the new book may be his best yet.
The rich guy Cody's ex-wife is planning to marry has taken Justin on a trip into the Thorofare, traveling in the company of a dozen other greenhorns who paid an outfitter a stiff fee to lead them on what they imagine will be the trip of a lifetime.
But back in Lewis and Clark County in Montana, someone has murdered Cody's best friend, and his investigation leads him to think that the killer, or maybe killers, are on that same trip. As he rides through the thickly forested mountains, he finds a body beside the trail. And then another. And another.
The novel is beautifully written, especially when Box is portraying the Yellowstone landscape.
"It was still moist in the trees from a brief rain shower that came at dawn as they set out, and raindrops clung like tears to the tips of the pine needles. Occasionally, there was a break in the canopy and light streamed through like jail bars."
The plot is a roller-coaster ride of unexpected twists and turns, making "Back of Beyond" one of the most suspenseful wilderness thrillers since "Deliverance." And Box's characters are so real that you want to reach out and shake their hands ' or flee from them as fast as you can.
Bruce DeSilva is the author of "Rogue Island," which won the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for best first novel.