After successively reading two relatively long and dense literary novels with complicated plots, I felt the need for something simple and undemanding. I thought of C.J. Box's Joe Pickett series.
This is actually the tenth book in that series. Hard to believe I've read that many; they all sort of elide together in the memory.
I like Joe Pickett and his family. He's an honorable man trying to do a job that he loves and believes is important. His wife and daughters are believable people with whom the reader can empathize.
In the last novel, the Picketts learned that the foster daughter who they thought was dead was very much alive and living in Chicago in rather desperate circumstances. They brought her home but she has many problems emanating from her hard life and she is a disruptive influence in the family, constantly at war with her two sisters.
Joe had been sent away from his home and family for a year to be the temporary game warden in Baggs, Wyoming. At the beginning of this book, he's in his last week of that assignment and looking forward to going home. Somehow the reader suspects that this is not going to go off on schedule.
The first part of this book is a nail-biting thriller in which Joe comes up against two seemingly superhuman mountain men (brothers) who have been terrorizing the region and, most importantly from Joe's point of view, breaking game laws. When he tries to hold them accountable for their breaches of the law, their ruthless and violent nature is revealed. They follow him as he leaves their camp, eventually attacking him and his horses. They kill the horses, wound him, and take all his supplies. He's left with nothing but his service weapon and the clothes on his back.
Of course, Joe is used to surviving in the wild, so, in spite of his serious leg wound, he continues on his way down the mountain, even as he's being tracked by a pack of wolves - wolves that aren't supposed to be there.
Eventually, he happens upon the cabin of a recluse woman who dresses his wound and shelters him. But then the crazy brothers, who are friends and protectors of the woman, show up and Joe has to escape out a back window and later watches from a distance as the three burn the cabin.
Okay. So far the story was an exciting, page-turning read, as we wonder how Joe is going to escape from another fine mess he's gotten into. But then the narrative takes a turn and becomes essentially a right-wing libertarian screed. Government bad! Mountain men good! Even when they terrorize the neighborhood and destroy other people's property, slaughter wildlife, attack a game warden just trying to do his job, and eventually kill at least four people. They just want to be left alone! And being left alone to do as one pleases is the highest good in this philosophy.
A great proponent of this philosophy is Joe's friend, Nate Romanowski, and most of the arguments for it are spoken by him, as were, in the last book, the arguments regarding denial of human-caused climate change. He finds a soul mate in the woman recluse on the mountain, both of them great fans of Ayn Rand, and we are treated to their admiring discussion of Atlas Shrugged and their denigration of European socialism.
One suspects that C.J. Box, too, is an admirer of Ayn Rand and that his writing is influenced by her. He manages to get those arguments against government and any kind of regulation into every one of his books, and always - ALWAYS! - the law enforcement authorities from the local sheriff to the FBI are corrupt and only out to thwart the work of the only honorable man, Joe Pickett. Joe Pickett who strongly objects to being referred to as "the government man," even though that's exactly what he is.
I don't know. The plot of this book has holes that a herd of pronghorns could run through and I'm beginning to lose patience with Box, but then I've never read Atlas Shrugged so before I write him off completely, maybe I should read it. At the same time, I would encourage him to study the benefits of European socialism a little more closely and with an open mind.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars