Once in a while I’ll pick up a book that leaves me slack-jawed in wonder by the time I put it down. NOWHERE TO RUN by C. J. Box has been one of those books for me. Joe Pickett is Box’s western Job, a man who is afflicted with troubles of his own making but is a good and decent person constantly striving to do the right thing in a bad world. Covering 10 days when things go from bad to worse for Pickett, this is one of those very rare books that perfectly demonstrates the dilemma of doing what’s right and proper, even when the result is pre-ordained to be disastrous.
NOWHERE TO RUN begins with Pickett completing the last week of a temporary assignment as the state game warden in Baggs, Wyoming. The isolation around Baggs is a factor in his assignment there; it’s supposed to be relatively quiet, and the thought is that Pickett can work without fanfare or attention. But the mountainous area around Baggs is not without problems. The wilderness acquired notoriety some two years before when an Olympic hopeful who had been training in the area vanished. Campsites are now being vandalized and elk butchered by someone who comes and goes as quietly as a mist. Pickett feels duty-bound to check out these reports and encounters much more than he bargains for in the form of the Grim brothers, twins whose bizarre behavior and seemingly supernatural abilities to appear and vanish at will are unsettling. Pickett barely escapes with his life, but not before he meets a mysterious woman who bears a marked resemblance to the missing Olympic hopeful.
When Pickett makes it back to civilization, he is immediately hospitalized, and a search team is sent out to locate the twins and the unknown lady. But they find absolutely nothing, leaving the authorities in the state to conclude that Pickett is hallucinating at best or fabricating at worst. Someone, however, believes that Pickett is telling the truth. The FBI enters the case, and a team of private mercenaries are combing the mountains as well, indicating that the Grim brothers are far more than they appear to be at first.
Pickett is assigned to go home, where his continuing absences over the past several months have almost made him a stranger. He feels as if he left a part of himself in the mountains, and his wife, Maribeth, notices the change in him as well. The family’s dynamics have also shifted, given the introduction of Alice (from BELOW ZERO) into the mix. But Pickett feels compelled to return to the mountain to confront his fears. Accompanied by his friend, Nate Romanoski (who himself is a hunted man), Pickett attempts to redeem himself in his own eyes and the eyes of others, by bringing the Grim brothers to justice and possibly resolving a confounding mystery. What ultimately occurs, though, is not a resolution, but rather the beginning of a chain reaction that has the potential to change Pickett’s life forever --- and not for the better.
If you felt perhaps that Box was beginning to run out of stories for Pickett --- and yes, I’ve talked to a couple of readers who were thinking precisely that --- NOWHERE TO RUN demonstrates that, if anything, Box is only getting started. If you thought that the previous novels in this series were serious, then get ready for an even deeper and wider run. Starting right now.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 13, 2011