Someone recently asked me if I would be reading ENDANGERED, C.J. Box’s new thriller featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. My response was something along the lines that I would be reading Pickett novels as long as 1) Box continued to write them, and 2) I was on this side of the veil to read them. I am totally serious on both counts. Box consistently combines plot and character development with near-poetic setting descriptions to present what is one of the best ongoing series in any genre. ENDANGERED is the latest example of this.

The title is both appropriate and an understatement. It begins with news that any parent dreads receiving. Joe and Marybeth Pickett have not had it easy raising their ward, 18-year-old April, but have steadfastly done so with love in their hearts. This selfless act on their part has been particularly difficult since April, upon attaining her majority, has been touring the rodeo circuit with Dallas Cates, a bronco-riding superstar from a family with whom Joe has had difficulties in both his official law enforcement capacities and otherwise. When the Picketts learn that April has been discovered in a ditch, beaten almost to death, it is as if their world has come to an end.

"Box consistently combines plot and character development with near-poetic setting descriptions to present what is one of the best ongoing series in any genre. ENDANGERED is the latest example of this."

Joe is ready to enact a more than appropriate revenge, knowing in his heart that Cates is responsible for the reprehensible deed that has put April in such dire straits, even as she barely clings to life in a hospital bed. However, it appears that it would’ve been all but impossible for Cates to have injured April in the place and manner in which she was found. But if Cates is not guilty, then who is? There is another suspect who is all but eliminated by Joe, whose plate is already full with his official duties as he attempts to identify who is behind the seemingly meaningless slaughter of almost two-dozen protected birds.

Meanwhile, Joe’s uneasy friendship with Nate Romanowski takes a new turn when he is led like a deadly wolf to slaughter in an ambush that leaves him clinging to life and Liv Brannan, his love interest, in extremely dire straits. These somewhat disparate storylines gradually come together with Joe being the focal point and moving factor, at times almost in spite of himself. From an intellectual standpoint, Joe is not always the sharpest blade in the drawer, which he will be the first to acknowledge. As the Bible states in 1 Corinthians 8:2, anyone who claims to know all of the answers doesn’t really know very much. Joe is aware of his limitations and makes up for them with a quiet but dogged resoluteness. As the book’s conclusion reveals, a little help from your friends doesn’t hurt.

In some ways, ENDANGERED pushes the reset button on the Pickett series. Box has not been afraid to advance the lives of his characters in the past, and by the end of this book, it is obvious that he can move the storyline in a number of different and interesting directions. The good news is that it appears we can look forward to new Pickett novels for some time to come; the only downside is that we may have to wait a year or so for the next one. Until then, though, we have ENDANGERED, one of the best entries in the series to date.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 13, 2015