WILDERNESS THRILLERS: NEW BOOKS BY C. J. BOX AND PAUL DOIRON
Ever since reading Alistair MacLean’s classic Night Without End back in the early 1970s I have been a fan of thrillers which simultaneously pit protagonists against deadly natural and human forces. Getting the balance right between the two dangers can be tricky, but it is something that C. J. Box and Paul Doiron ably manage in their latest novels.
C. J. Box’s popular series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett has now reached 21 novels with the latest instalment, Dark Sky. The story opens with the Governor of Wyoming giving Pickett the thankless task of taking a tech baron on an elk hunting trip, as a way of improving the business outlook for the state. Joe reluctantly treks into the wilderness with his high-profile charge, but as they venture into a remote part of the woods, a man-hunter is hot on their heels, driven by a desire for revenge. Following a bloody confrontation, Pickett finds himself without a weapon, a horse, or a way to communicate and must rely on his wits and his knowledge of the outdoors to protect himself and his companion.
This is a gripping thriller with Box’s usual vivid descriptions of the Wyoming countryside and its wildlife adding extra texture and interest to the story. The story starts a little slowly, but once underway it keeps you glued to the pages. Pickett’s battle with the elements is convincing and fascinating, and there are enough twists to the story to keep it interesting. A side plot about series regular Nate Romanowksi and his falcons is a bit distracting, but it obviously sets up the premise for the next book.
As always, Box’s cast of local characters are flawed and engaging, and seemingly authentic, and the descriptions of the wildlife are moving. I struggle with the whole hunting thing, but Box is very even-handed and gives fair consideration to both sides.
In all, this is another top-notch novel by one of America’s most consistent and entertaining thriller writers.
Four stars out of five!
Paul Doiron’s series about Maine game warden Mike Bowditch do not seem to be as well known as the Pickett books, at least here in Australia, which is probably due to their limited availability outside of America. It is a shame, as the ones I have read have been very good and the latest, Dead By Dawn, is excellent.
Dead By Dawn opens in dramatic fashion with Bowditch fighting for his life after being ambushed on a dark winter road in an isolated part of the state. His jeep is forced off the road and crashes into a frozen river, leaving Bowditch trapped beneath the ice in the middle of nowhere. With no gun and no way to signal for help, Mike fights his way to the surface, but finds that surviving the crash is only the first challenge. Whoever set the trap that ran him off the road is still out there, and they are coming for him as the night closes in.
As Bowditch desperately tries to stay alive, we learn through flashbacks the events that led up to the crash and we are privy to his thoughts as he tries to work out who wants him dead. The twin prong of the narrative works well, with the sub-plot about the possible murder of a wealthy professor adding a bit of mystery, while Bowditch’s battles in the present add plenty of suspense and action.
Doiron’s description of Bowditch’s struggles to survive in the icy conditions are chillingly tense and probably the best I have read. The balance between describing how Bowditch tries to keep warm and the tension of the killers closing in on him is well maintained and the final fifty pages, or so, are very exciting as the two storylines come to a head in an unexpected way.
I really enjoyed Box’s Dark Sky, but thought that Dead By Dawn was just that bit more exciting and had a more engaging mystery.
Four and a half stars out of five!
Dead By Dawn does not seem to be released in Australia or the United Kingdom, but can be purchased through Amazon and other outlets. The American edition also has a terrific cover on it!
Thanks to the publishers for an electronic copy of the book and to George Easter from Deadly Pleasures for organising a copy for me.