Edgar Award-winning C. J. Box features Yellowstone National Park in his new stand-alone book Back of Beyond. His antihero: reformed drunk Cody Hoyt, a sheriff’s department detective whose precarious hold on sobriety slips when he finds his AA sponsor dead in his partially burned Montana cabin.
It looks like Hank Winters was passed out drunk when sparks from the stove ignited the cabin, but a fortuitously heavy rainfall preserves enough evidence to back Cody’s conviction that Hank was murdered instead. Indefatigable Larry Olsen, the only other detective Cody trusts, comes around to Cody’s thinking and helps turn up several similarly staged deaths around the country.
Hank’s computer browser record suggests the killer is joining an outfitter who runs horseback treks into remote regions of Yellowstone. In the book’s only bit of strained credulity, it turns out that Cody’s son from his imploded marriage is on that trip with his prospective stepdad. By now, Cody has made a spectacular return to the bottle and been suspended, so he’s flying solo as he heads for Yellowstone.
Cody is a great creation — a gut-churningly convincing drunk who stubbornly forges on in the face of arson attack, his own paranoia, and some hapless horsemanship, intent on saving his son from a murderer whose identity is tantalizingly elusive.
Box gives a sizeable collection of characters generous play here, both in the sheriff’s office and on the trail. The manipulative, self-satisfied outfitter gets annoying, but the other flawed people soon earn our interest (and wary scrutiny) as events start to unspool.
Back of Beyond will be released on Tuesday.
P. G. Koch reviews mysteries for the Chronicle.