Just when you think that C.J. Box has reached the peak of his talents, the clouds lift, the sky clears, and another, much higher summit appears. The new territory in the current instance is BREAKING POINT, the latest installment in the Joe Pickett canon. The arrival of a new Pickett book (or any book by Box, for that matter) is noteworthy, but this particular volume is worth reading, given its subject matter, one that should concern anyone in the United States who owns real estate. Based on real-world events, this is one of those rare novels in which the author’s advocacy does not get in the way of the storytelling, which is first-rate from beginning to end.
BREAKING POINT begins with a roar. Two Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agents on a mysterious mission go missing and are subsequently found buried in a shallow grave. All signs of their murders point to a taciturn but otherwise peaceful gentleman named Butch Roberson, a construction company owner struggling day to day to make the weekly nut. The bodies are buried near some undeveloped property of Roberson’s, and, as is subsequently revealed, Roberson had been involved in a convoluted dispute with the EPA that had been handled somewhat heavy-handedly. Pickett and Roberson have been acquainted with each other through their daughters’ friendship, and, indeed, Pickett had encountered Roberson while patrolling the Wyoming wilderness, just before Roberson disappeared and the bodies of the EPA agents were discovered.
"Based on real-world events, this is one of those rare novels in which the author’s advocacy does not get in the way of the storytelling, which is first-rate from beginning to end."
The subsequent uproar over the deaths of the agents is understandable, but the matter is aggravated by the arrival of an obnoxious EPA regional director named Juan Julio Batista, who is ostensibly present to supervise the hunt for Roberson but, to Pickett, appears to have a hidden agenda as well. Batista complicates matters by offering a reward for Roberson’s capture, with the result that a couple of do-it-yourselfers --- characters whose names will be familiar to faithful readers of the Pickett series --- begin their own outclassed, outmatched and outsmarted pursuit of the wily Roberson.
Batista’s own overreaching, coupled with the ignorant policies of the agency toward the environment that it is charged with protecting, results in a situation that puts Pickett in what is perhaps the most dangerous situation he has ever encountered. He struggles to find Roberson, protect him, and bring him back alive to face and potentially defend the charges that have been made against him. However, Pickett remains puzzled by the way that the situation arose to start with, and finds himself once again playing hunter, as well as detective, even as the might and majesty of the Federal government is arrayed against him.
While the occurrence that inspired BREAKING POINT did not play out in precisely the same manner as it did in Box’s fine and intensely readable novel, its core premise is similar with respect to the egregious trampling of property rights that took place. Simply Google “The Sackett Case” to read the history behind the historic and unanimous 2012 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning procedure and property rights. Then plot out several hours, sit down and crack the binding on this book, which will raise the hair on your neck and chill you to the bone.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 15, 2013