Review: C J Box – Out of Range

Ever since the death of the wonderful Tony Hillerman, I’ve been looking for a writer to fill the gap left by the end of the Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee series. Nevada Barr is a writer that I am now enjoying although her books are fairly difficult to get hold of in the UK. However, while I was at the Crime Writing festival in Harrogate, I picked up a second-hand copy of C J Box’s Out of Range in one of the town’s bookshops and was immediately transported to the Wyoming landscape. The mixture of setting, well constructed plot and engaging characters was a delight to read.

Wyoming game warden, Joe Pickett, is attending his mother-in-law’s wedding to a local rancher when he hears the news that fellow warden and friend Will Jensen, has committed suicide. Pickett is asked to temporarily take on the man’s duties which means leaving his wife and family behind and heading to the town of Jackson Hole which unlike Pickett’s hometown of Saddlestring is a hotbed of political and bureaucratic machinations. Pickett is surprised to hear about Will’s drinking and violent temper in the weeks leading up to his death and starts to do a bit of digging around the death. Meanwhile, Marybeth left in Saddlestring with their two children is receiving silent phone calls and asks family friend Nate Romanowski to help out.

I’m often wary about picking up books mid series as character development can be a key part of these slow burning series. In Out of Range, which is the fifth book in the series, there has clearly been plenty of backstory developed for the characters over previous books. The marriage of Marybeth’s sassy mother, who has managed to snare a wealthy rancher was lovely to read about and and her relationship with her son-in-law Joe is an enjoyably prickly one. Nevertheless coming new to the series I didn’t feel hampered by my lack of knowledge of the history of the relationship, rather it made me want to go back and read more of Box’s earlier books.

There is an interesting portrait of a marriage in the book. Joe and Marybeth are suffering form the pressures felt by any couple with young children and busy careers. As Joe’s new role force the couple to live in separate houses, they both struggle with feelings of resentment and loneliness and also attraction to other people. In Joe’s case, this attraction is a major plot line, but Box cleverly balances this out with Marybeth’s increasing reliance on Nate and how this attraction is picked up by her teenage daughter.

As you would expect, depictions of the Wyoming landscape are a major draw of this book. Box highlights the isolation felt by the State’s rangers and adds another layer in the book by making the threat closer to home. It’s a different landscape of course, to Hillerman’s Arizona desert but I found the way in which the setting is integrated into the plot to be very similar. I enjoyed my introcution to Box’s writing and I’m hoping to read other books, hopefully earlier in the series.

Other reviews can be found at Petrona and Is it Me?

The author’s website is here.


20 thoughts on “Review: C J Box – Out of Range

  1. So glad you liked this book – because most of it takes place outside Saddlestring, and because of the Joe “attraction” plotline you mention, it is not typical of the series. I really like the portrait of the PIcketts’ marriage, & how MaryBeth has to pick herself up after book #1 and reinvent herself to keep the family finances afloat, etc. The themes of their children are also very well-handled. I find these books addictive – I am not usually a fan of outdoorsy books, but I love these, partly because the human elements are handled so well (even if the mysteries are sometimes not that strong).


  2. Thanks Maxine and its useful to know that this isn’t the usual location nor theme of other books. I get the impression Box is fairly easy to find over here so I will look out for other copies. I remember you saying you liked the books and in fact your review was one of only 2 I could find on the internet.


    1. Thanks, Sarah – Corvus issued all these in the UK last year (all the Joe Picketts to date, and a couple of non-series books) – some of them were very cheap on kindle but not sure if they still are. I am afraid I have “re-homed” my print ones, otherwise I’d offer to send them to you, sorry.


  3. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – Oh, I am so glad you liked this novel! Joe Pickett is such a terrific character in my opinion, and I do like the way Box develops him and the members of his family. It’s a realistic portrait of a family. I also really admire the way Box is able to depict the lovely and dangerous country of Wyoming. That’s actually one of my favourite aspects of this series. And then of course there’s the terrific character of Joe Pickett himself. Yes, this is definitely a series I recommend and I’m glad you enjoyed your first taste of it.


  4. I’ve only read one of this series so far but did enjoy it, also read one of his standalones that made it to my top ten list for that year (called BLUE HEAVEN). He writers a corker of a setting – both physical and human


  5. Thanks for the review Sarah. I’ve got a few of these I’ve picked up over the last few months and have been waiting for a gap in my reading schedule for them. Think I will be picking one up sooner rather than later especially with the comparison to the late great Hillerman.


    1. I found the style/content to be similar to Hillerman although there is nothing like the Arizona desert to capture your imagination. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.


  6. kathy d.

    I haven’t read this series yet, although I am a fan of Nevada Barr’s books, which are set in varied environments, including deserts. The latest one, Rope depicts the precipices in the Southwest quite well.
    I’ll try to get to this book or the stand-alone, which was mentioned above — Blue Heaven. I am
    weighed down by the TBR list and piles at this point. But the books are going on the ever-growing list.
    If only we had more reading time or there was 36 hours in a day or I could read two books at once or if only…


    1. I know exactly what you mean Kathy. At the moment I seem to be reading reviews on other peoples blogs of books sitting on my shelves. I’m not reading them any faster! Although based on your recommendation I have just started the/my first Camilleri.


  7. kathy d.

    I hope you liked our crazed Sicilian detective. My mouth now starts watering for seafood and pasta whenever I think of Sicily because of his gourmand habits.


  8. Pingback: The Best of August’s Reading « crimepieces

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