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the disappeared

14 august 2020

The Disappeared is the eighteenth of C.J. Box's crime thrillers featuring Joe Pickett. Being me, I opted to read the eighteenth first, because my partner found it for me in a Little Free Library. You can judge from the rest of this website my likely chances of reading the other nineteen that Box has published so far. But as I often say, with world enough and time, I would try. The Disappeared is very well-written and well-plotted, with an appealing setting and characters.

Ideologically, I'm less sure. The Disappeared is calqued onto real-life current events in Wyoming that are almost too improbable for fiction. A huge wind farm is under construction in Wyoming, slated to be the largest in the U.S.; the power it generates will be exported to California. Joe Pickett, in the novel, matches wits against a murderous fixer who will stop at nothing to clear the way for a similar but fictional wind-farm project, a boondoggle designed to suck up federal subsidies and salve the eco-consciences of NIMBY Californians.

Joe Pickett is a career game warden, and his sidekick Nate Romanowski is a master falconer. They see the wind farm as an ecological disaster, devastating Wyoming wildlife so that smug left-coasters can preserve their views of the Pacific. (By contrast, the coal mines that wind power is displacing are, apparently, ecologically benign.) The evil that renewable energy brings to Wyoming, in Box's novel, is all a result of having to cover up the carnage that wind turbines inflict on birds of prey.

Ostensibly, though, the plot of The Disappeared is driven by, wouldn't you know it, a disappearance. A jet-setting British businesswoman (does anybody still say "jet set?" Maybe in the age of COVID we can say it again) has gone missing, and the new Republican governor of Wyoming, in the hip pocket of the wind-turbine people, assigns Joe the job of finding her. The governor expressly tells Joe not to get Nate involved, but Nate shows up anyway, shooting witnesses and bludgeoning suspects with frozen trout in scenes of torture that are played for slapstick. The missing woman has vanished from a plush dude ranch where Joe's daughter Sheridan is learning to be a wrangler to the rich, adding more complications to the story.

The Disappeared is just edgy and amoral enough to make me want to read more of the series. It has tight suspense-plot construction and moderately-boiled dialogue, and things appropriately aren't what they seem: the serious turns farcical and the absurd becomes serious. I'm intrigued, and in the course of things will give one of the other 19 Joe Picketts – or however many there are by the time I get around to it – a try.

Box, C.J. The Disappeared. New York: Putnam [Penguin Random House], 2018.