Back of Beyond by C.J. Box
Rebel Voice has reviewed a number of C.J. Box’s novels in the Joe Pickett series and found them all of a high standard. Back of Beyond is not of the same story-line nor level of writing.
Detective Cody Hoyt is an alcoholic (is there any other type of cop?) maverick in the police department of Lewis and Clark County in Montana. He gets called to a potential crime scene involving his AA sponsor. Although Hoyt’s colleague, Larry Olsen, believes that the victim died as a result of an accident, Cody is of a different opinion. It turns out that he’s right, and so both Hoyt and Olsen begin to unravel the clues surrounding the murder.
Their investigations lead them to Wilderness Adventures and its owner/operator, Jed McCarthy. Both detectives suspect that the killer, now believed to have murdered at least three others, has signed onto a trekking expedition led by Jed into the remotest part of Yellowstone National Park. At a loss to explain why a serial killer would want to go into the wilds, Cody’s determination to pursue the killer of his friend becomes intensified when he discovers that his teenage son, Justin, is also on the trip at the invitation of his soon-to-be stepfather, Walt. Cody is climbing the walls with panic as he imagines the worst.
Back of Beyond is, for the most part, two stories that eventually merge. The first centres around Cody. The second is an account of the horse-riding expedition and the various members of the group, especially fourteen year old Gracie, whose older sister Danielle has the hots for Justin (teenagers, what are you gonna do with them?).
Readers are treated to a whodunnit, as we try to figure out which of the trekkers is the killer. Cody has the same problem, but has to deal with the additional problem of being unable to get plastered whilst working it all out. The result is a decent enough plot, well enough told. Yet it is not of the Joe Pickett standard.
Some of the plot mechanisms in Back of Beyond are stretched, and certain characters have a feel of inconsistency about them. There are some decent personalities in this though. The scene settings and depictions of Yellowstone are reasonably evocative and appealing. Sadly, this is an adventure tale that has been done before, quite a bit, in both book and movie. Rebel Voice gets the feeling that Box was out of his comfort zone with this one. He excels when recounting the exploits of Joe Pickett, but falls short of his own high standards with Back of Beyond.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. Not the worst book you’ll ever read. This would be a decent enough effort for most authors but because Box’s other series is so good, this novel appears much weaker in comparison.