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long range

16 april 2021

C. J. Box's Joe Pickett novels have the nondescript and repetitive titles of many a long-running detective series. In a few months – heck, in a few minutes – I may not be able to pick Long Range by title out of a lineup that includes Out of Range, Free Fire, Endangered, Open Season, and Trophy Hunt.

Though Long Range does include the theme of long-range shooting. According to Box, new rifle technologies have brought the ability to hit targets over a mile away within the capacity of at least the well-heeled civilian marksman. Long Range begins with such a shot, a bullet that travels hundreds and hundreds of meters … and hits the wrong person.

Not that hitting the right person would have been a good outcome. But the target was the irascible, cavalier Judge Hewitt, minor villain in several previous Joe Pickett novels; and the person hit instead is his blameless wife Susan. The Judge mobilizes the lawmen of Twelve Sleep County in an all-hands manhunt for the shooter. You may have guessed that progress is made not by the official sheriff-led team but by Joe Pickett in a borrowed truck and his wife Marybeth at the circulation desk of her public library.

A couple of subplots orbit the central investigation. Far away in remotest Wyoming, Joe and his colleagues had been investigating a weird tale of a hunting guide killed by a grizzly bear as his supercilious out-of-state client took flight. (As the adage goes, you don't have to outrun the bear.) And closer to home, a leftover hit man from Wolf Pack stalks Joe's sidekick Nate Romanowski in pursuit of a highly formal vendetta.

A theme throughout Long Range, and Box's novels generally, is that of outsider vs. insider. People like the haughty hunter who flees the grizzly, or the incompetent careerist sheriff who fails to find the shooter, are marked not just as minor bad guys but worse: they are strangers. A slick lawyer who shows up to defend Nate (the stupid sheriff's top suspect) has some of the traits of an outsider, but turns out to be a good egg because "he knew his way around a Wyoming courtroom, where long-standing relationships and connections often undergirded the outcome" (281). A good lawyer, but perhaps a less-good legal system. If your guilt or innocence comes down to who you know …

Box, C.J. Long Range. New York: Putnam [Penguin Random House], 2020. PS 3552 .O87658L66