C. J. Box is one of those few authors whose work from book to book is reliably brilliant. His primary character, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, is a modern-day haphazard, gentle warrior of a sort, whose proneness to error and accident is more than counterbalanced by an overriding sense of decency in goodness in a place where such qualities are viewed more often than not as a weakness. It is Pickett’s ability to manifest those qualities as a winning strength that have helped to shoulder these novels to the forefront of the modern western, creating new interest in an established genre that at one time was considered all but finished, while cementing it firmly in the minds of the thriller readership.
"For those who have never encountered Box’s work, his latest effort will be an experience never to be forgotten."
Box’s fine and beautiful prose manifests an appreciation for the wilds of Wyoming and Colorado that indicates a first-hand experience of the natural wilderness of which he writes. Pickett’s prickly relationship with local law enforcement --- with whom he is on the same side of the fence only on paper --- provides a subplot that runs from book to book. However, it is Pickett’s relationship with Nate Romanowski, to whom Pickett owes his life and that of his family, that provides the starkest subtext to the series. Romanowski, a former member of a special operations unit, is an isolationist, preferring to be left alone to forage and otherwise live off the land. His sole activity and joy, as we are reminded time and again here, is falconry, a study and practice of which he has few equals.
People and trouble continue to plague Romanowski, however, so that he at least is a person of interest to law enforcement at all levels and at any given moment. It is Romanowski’s past that drives the plot of FORCE OF NATURE as a man named Nemecek is pursuing him with bad and deadly intent. He is Romanowski’s former mentor and the one human being on earth whose murderous skill set is the superior of Romanowski’s. The reason for Nemecek’s pursuit of Romanowski lies buried in the not-so-distant past, in a place far removed from the placid beauty of the Wyoming mountains where Romanowski has chosen to live his life in peace if he will only be permitted to do so. That is not going to happen.
Before the tale is told entirely, all that Pickett and Romanowski hold dear will be threatened and, in some cases, irrevocably destroyed, all because of the consequences of an act of greed that, as it turned out, was writ large upon the page of history. Actions have consequences, and, as is pointedly demonstrated here, inaction has its own set of terrible results as well, which resonates forward in time in a dangerous and destructive ripple. What this book is ultimately about, though, is the nobility of friendship between two men, a force that overrides all others for good and otherwise.
FORCE OF NATURE puts paid to some of the issues and plot lines that have been developing over the course of the last few Joe Pickett novels. But there is more than enough left unresolved to cause problems for those who survive its cataclysmic, apocalyptic ending. For those who have never encountered Box’s work, his latest effort will be an experience never to be forgotten.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 22, 2012