C. J. Box’s latest novel, Endangered, begins with murder most fowl. As Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett is investigating the obliteration of a flock of sage-grouse in his jurisdiction, he gets a call that his daughter, who ran off with rodeo hero Dallas Cates, has been found beaten and left for dead in a ditch. Joe is sure Cates is guilty but he’s got to prove it. And he’ll have to do it without the help of his friend, Nate Romanowski, who has been suspiciously ambushed and whose girlfriend is missing.
Demonstrating his characters’ sense of family and loyalty is one of Box’s strengths in his writing, and his new novel proves no exception. Joe is devoted to his wife and kids. His friendship with Nate has held strong through some tough times. His good heart and sense of justice keep him on the straight path. But in Endangered, Box shows us what can happen when family loyalty gets twisted. And the Cates family is twisted with a capital T. Dallas’ mother Brenda is one of the creepiest and most fascinating characters Box has ever given us.
I have enjoyed all of CJ Box’s books and this is one of the best. As always he takes several plotlines (the sage-grouse killings, Nate’s disappearance, April’s attack) and weaves them into an exciting, well-paced adventure with plenty of unexpected turns along the way. And even if you haven’t read a Joe Pickett book before, the characters are so well defined this would be a great place to jump in.
2014 has been an excellent year for short story collections, and whether you have a taste for themed compilations or single author explorations of the short story form, we have a short story collection for you! Here’s our top five of the year, plus an honorable mention from 2013 that we just couldn’t leave off the list.
These stories give us a look at Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire between his cases. Whether dealing with a questionable hitch hiker, robbery at The Red Pony bar and grill, or an owl trapped in a Porta-Potty, we learn that his down time is both eventful and often funny.
From the wonderful warped imagination of Jonathan Woods, the second installment of twisted satiric tales. From an out-of-control swingers party to a man getting a phone call from Charles Manson, Woods proves he is the mad scientist of short fiction.
All of Box’s short work collected through the years, including many stories featuring his game warden, Joe Pickett. Standout tales feature a group of immigrants dumped in Yellowstone and two old mountain men trying to put up with one another during a harsh winter.
These tales of incarceration from different prisons around the country, most written by current or former inmates, deliver a cold hard hit to the bones. You won’t take freedom for granted after reading these stories.
Special Mention – The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories by Glenn Gray
It came out last year, but I was finally able to read it in 2014 and it’s too damn good to be omitted from this list. Gray mixes crime, horror, and sci-fi in these stories where the thing a person can trust the least is his own body. Both well crafted and outrageous.
All of the books listed above are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Look out for more top lists later in December!
Long Beach, California is known for sunny weather and soft breezes. Thursday, November 13th it became gloomy and overcast with rain. Some blamed this on the hoard of crime fiction fans, writers, publishers, and booksellers recently arrived in town. It was the first day of the 2014 Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery conference, where we talked about dark stories under an eventually bright sky.
The first night, I had the honor of being invited to a dinner for the authors and supporters of Seventh Street Press, celebrating their second anniversary. It was fun to hang out with my friend Mark Pryor, creator of the Hugo Marston series, and meeting Allen Eskens, whose debut, The Life We Bury is a must-read for thriller fans, and Lori Rader-Day. Terry Shames arrived late, but had the excuse of winning The McCavity Award for best first novel on her way to dinner.
At the most entertaining panel I attended, titled Shaken, Not Stirred, writers discussed their use of drinking and bars in their work. Con Lehane, a former bartender, opened the discussion by stating that James Bond’s vodka martini is not really a martini because it is shaken. After he described the process of making a vodka martini, no one argued. Johnny Shaw said the more his characters drink, the more they surprise him. Eoin Colfer spoke of how he loved bars because a bar is a great equalizer, where anybody can walk through the door. When asked about the new smoking ban in Irish pubs, he said “It’s horrible. You can smell the men.”
The most enlightening panel I attended was Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane. Peter Rozovsky moderated a panel of learned crime writers and scholars who picked an author they felt deserved their due. Max Allan Collins, one of my favorite hard boiled writers, talked about Ennis Willie, who wrote about mobster on the run Sand in the early Sixties. Collins described the books as a Mickey Spillane imitation, but also discussed how these novels had a lot in common with Richard Stark’s Parker, who debuted the same year. Sarah Weinman, editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an upcoming anthology of stories by female thriller authors of the forties and fifties, introduced me to Dolores Hitchens.Gary Phillips gave a history of Joe Nazel, who formed a triptych of Seventies African-American crime writers, along with Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim.
Bouchercon has proved to be a great source for upcoming books. All of us who met Mette Ivie Harrison couldn’t wait to read her new novel, The Bishop’s Wife, coming out at the end of December. Harrison, who has had an interesting history with the Mormon Church and her own faith, has written a novel based on a true crime set in her community. I also got into a conversation with Christa Faust and CJ Box as Christa talked about the research she’s doing for her next Angel Dare book, where she puts the hard-boiled ex-porn star into the world of rodeo. CJ and I were both impressed by her knowledge of the sport.
There were also personal highlights. I got to hang out with Bobby McCue and Richard Brewer, the two men responsible for hiring and re-hiring me at The Mystery Bookstore, my first book slinging job, and showing me the ropes. It was also probably one of the best Dead Dog Dinners (the meal shared by the people who remained Sunday night after the conference has closed) as we talked about the state of the industry, books that moved us, and plotted 2015 in Raleigh. And if that wasn’t enough, there was this moment with Texas Author Reavis Wortham and a cheerleading squad.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Stone Cold had Joe involved in several side stories. Any of these could have been a book of its own. Do these stories develop together or do they come to you separately and you weave them into one book?
C. J. BOX: I like weaving several side stories into each book, and using different points of view to advance the plot. This way, the reader is privy to more information than any of the individual characters. I think this ratchets up the suspense and keeps the novel moving at a good pace.
MP: Do you know the end of the story before you start writing?
CJB: I do, but that doesn’t mean it won’t change. That’s happened several times. Although I know there are some writers who “see where the story takes them,” I think it’s important for a writer (and for readers) to always have a conclusion in mind.
MP: Your characters, even the “bit parts,” are well defined. Do you base all of your characters on someone you know? (If so, I hope Missy is not really your mother-in-law.)
CJB: No, my mother-in-law is much worse. I’m kidding! No, most of the characters are not based on people I know. Often, I’ll make them up out of whole cloth, or take them from someone I’ve seen on the street, or on television, or in a crowd.
MP: Most stories have good guys and bad guys. Nate has his own code that allows him to do things an “average Joe” would not. Is it difficult, as a writer, to have a good guy do bad things?
CJB: It can be dangerous. When a good person does a bad thing, there should be consequences. Even Nate, who lives by his own code, knows that he’ll never live a normal life because too many cops want to put him away. Joe has crossed the line a time or two also, and he’s suffered from it.
MP: Stone Cold ends with a few open questions (Sheridan’s missing guns, Missy, April & their new beaus, Nate’s future). Do you know where Joe will be headed next?
When you ride with Joe Pickett you’re in for adventure. If Nate Romanowski is along for the ride, it can take some interesting turns into the dark part of the woods.
In the fourteenth Pickett adventure, Joe sets out at the secret request of the governor to observe and report back what he can about a reclusive landowner, Wolfgang Templeton, who is suspected of murder for hire. The local folks won’t say much about their wealthy neighbor except that he is doing good for their little part of Wyoming. Joe, not being one to “just observe,” stirs things up and is soon on his own in deep snow and deep trouble.
While many fictional heroes could have handled this assignment, what makes Joe Pickett a rare creation is the bond with his family. Even when he is away from home his wife, Marybeth, and his girls, Sheridan, April & Lucy, are always part of the story. In this book, they are having adventures of their own. Sheridan is at college and suspects one of her fellow student of stealing guns. April has a new boyfriend with a dark past. And Lucy…has the lead in the school play.
Another of Joe’s unique traits is his friendship with Nate Romanowski. Nate has his own personal code, which isn’t strictly legal. During Joe’s investigation, he suspects his friend may be working with the mysterious Wolfgang Templeton. While he respects Nate’s code, he cannot let them get away with murder.
Stone Cold is a great addition to C.J. Box’s series. Even if you haven’t read any other Pickett novel, you won’t have a problem picking this one up. Box writes characters & plots that are clear and well defined. You’ll care about Joe, his family and what happens to them. The sketches of people and places are detailed, not wordy. If you like action and adventure, C.J. Box will deliver.
The latest Joe Pickett novel focuses on his lethal sidekick Nate Romanowski. The Five, the mysterious paramilitary group from Nate’s past, is after him, putting Joe and his family in danger as well. Many of Joe’s secrets will be revealed. Signed copies are now available.
Before Silverberg made a name for himself in the science fiction scene, he wrote this hard boiled treasury agent versus counterfeiters yarn for a magazine. Hard Case Crime finally prints it in novel form along with two other of his early crime pieces.