Featured Review: ‘Off The Grid’ by C.J. Box

CJ Box
Author C.J. Box

C.J. Box’s sixteenth novel in his best-selling Joe Picket series begins seven months after the events of his last book, Endangered. It’s October now, and Nate Romanowski is nearly recovered, finally, from  gunshot wounds that left him in critical condition and fighting for his life.

Nate is currently living “off the grid” in a remote Wyoming cabin in the middle of nowhere with his girlfriend Olivia “Liv” Brennan. When we first see Nate, he’s just awoken from a terrifying nightmare.

In his dream, Nate, a master falconer, was flying a beautiful gyrfalcon. The majestic white bird had appeared out of nowhere, and was now signaling that trouble was on its way. Multiple trucks came speeding towards Nate, each carrying men with assault rifles who were shouting at him. Nate was outgunned, outmanned and out of options–and just like that, the nightmare was over.

Liv was preparing to depart for the airport, where she would fly to be by the side of her terminally ill mother. The two kissed, said their goodbyes, and then Liv hopped into the pickup truck driven by a farmhand who worked for Dr. Kurt Bucholz. The doctor owned the land Nate and Liv were staying on, and ran a farm just over three miles away when he wasn’t performing surgeries at the local hospital.

With Liv gone, Nate went about his day while he tried to shake the unsettling feeling that had plagued him ever since he awoke from his nightmare. He’d never flown a gyrfalcon, and while he couldn’t place exactly where he was in the dream, he knew it was a desert. What did it all mean? He wasn’t sure, but something about the experience had bothered him to his core. His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the sound of a vehicle fast approaching–which wasn’t a normal occurrence for a man living in the middle of nowhere.

Some shady government-agent-types had found Nate, and they wanted to talk. After explaining that they could just arrest him for violating several of the agreed upon terms from a binding legal document he signed (in the previous book), they offered him a way out of his troubles.

Nate wasn’t interested, so the FBI guys laid down their trump card. A video feed followed Liv as she made her way to the airport, and they threatened Nate with arresting her, too. Nate knew she’d go to prison and he couldn’t let that happen, especially since her biggest crime was aiding and abetting him. With Nate suddenly open to hearing their offer, the FBI guys laid out their entire spiel.

Essentially, the federal government had reason to believe that a Muslim sports journalist named Muhammad “Ibby” Ibraaheem had been radicalized during a trip overseas. They believed Ibby was now in Wyoming, living completely off the grid (just like Nate) and that his presence may be linked to a string of odd crimes reported in the area. Semi-trucks had been stolen, and a major sporting equipment store had been robbed of generators, packs of food, tents, and various camping equipment and outdoor tools.

The FBI guys told Nate that they suspected a terrorist attack may be in the works. It was possible that ISIS was targeting Wyoming to show the West that they could hit anywhere at any time, causing people to live in a perpetual state of fear all around the country. Problem was, they didn’t know for sure where Ibby was. And with him living completely off the grid, they had no way to track or find him.

That’s when the feds revealed one final, crucial detail about Muhammad Ibraaheem–the single most important reason they needed Nate. Coincidentally, Ibby, like Nate, is an accomplished falconer. They want Nate to use his falcons to find Ibraaheem, and then to get close enough with the man to determine if he’s a threat to national security.

Late that night, Nate was feeding his falcons when he noticed a large white spot on the roof of the cabin. As he approached, his weapon drawn and at the ready, he stopped dead in his tracks when he realized what the white “spot” actually was.

It was a beautiful gyrfalcon that had seemingly come out of nowhere. An eerie sensation washed over Nate as he suddenly realized his dream hadn’t been a nightmare after all–but rather a premonition.

CJ Box Off The GridJoe Picket, meanwhile, had spent his forty-seventh birthday doing what game wardens do. He’d ridden by horseback from campsite to campsite, checking licenses and making sure all the hunting laws were obeyed on his watch. Tired after a long day, all Joe wanted to do was go home and have a big slice of peach pie. Unfortunately, though, a suspected bear attack forced him to turn his truck around.

The bear, which was being tracked by a team of large-carnivore biologists, had previously been fitted with a GPS tracker. The team had seen the bear’s GPS indicator come in contact with a hunter who was also carrying a GPS tracker and immediately feared the worst. In an effort to track the bear in real-time, the team increased how often the GPS locator, which was attached around the bear’s neck like a collar, sent its location information.

The downside to that decision was that it burnt through the remaining battery power, until there wasn’t enough juice left to transmit at all. At that point the bear, who was still on the loose, was impossible to track.

The next day, Joe fulfilled his obligatory mandate to attend a political event for Republican politician Colter Allen. Many believed Allen to be a lock as next governor of Wyoming, including the current governor who was there in a show of support. Governor Rulon, who already has a new job lined up once his final days in office come to an end, confronts Joe with a problem.

Rulon told how Dr. Bucholz had called him to explain the circumstances of the feds showing up on his doorstep, their meeting with Nate Romanowski, and that he found a letter the next morning from Nate, who has since vanished. Rulon is furious that the federal government sent people into his state without so much as a courtesy call, and he wants to know what the heck they are up to–which is where Joe comes in.

Joe Pickett is one of fifty game wardens in the state of Wyoming, but he’s also served at the pleasure of the governor, who has sent him on a variety of missions over the past eight years. This time Rulon needs Joe because as a game warden he can move around without raising suspicion, whereas local law enforcement asking questions might tip off the feds that someone is onto them.

In return for Joe’s cooperation, Rulon promised to help Joe and his wife battle their health insurance company, who is refusing to pay for a rather large hospital bill that Joe’s daughter racked up a few months ago. The debt hovering over their heads is threatening to make the Picketts go bankrupt, so Joe gratefully agrees to the deal with Rulon.

Pretending to track the bear who attacked a hunter the night before and got away, Joe sets off to find Nate Romanowski–who unbeknownst to him is trying to find Muhammad Ibraaheem. Both men will soon learn that nothing is quite what it originally seemed, and that nobody can be trusted. Neither Joe or Nate has any idea just how much danger they’re in, or how badly they will end up needing each other if they are going to survive. 

Joe Pickett is back, and he’s hunting the biggest game of his life. Off The Grid is a riveting adventure that proves once again why C.J. Box is one of the elite thriller writers in the genre today.

Why I loved it

Of all the star protagonists in the thriller genre, Joe Pickett is by far the easiest to relate to. He’s a regular guy, dealing with the same stresses that most Americans face on a daily basis. I remember all the way back to Box’s first Pickett novel, Open Season, when Joe’s family was forced to stay in a hotel for a few nights. Joe was both embarrassed and ashamed when his wife informed him that they couldn’t afford it. Hey, Joe, we’ve all been there!

Joe and I happen to have a lot in common. We’re both married with kids, we prefer pie on our birthday instead of cake, and it turns out we’re both a lousy shot. Actually, that’s pretty much where the similarities end–but I understand Joe, and I connect with him anyways.

I’m a city boy through-and-through. I couldn’t start a fire in the wilderness to save my life, and I’ve never been camping. I’m usually not interested in these outdoorsy-type of thrillers, but there’s just something about Joe Pickett and the way C.J. Box writes these novels that sucks you in and doesn’t let go.

The Picketts are so well developed that longtime fans of this series can’t help but feel like they know the family personally. Joe’s daughters, who were just little kids back in Open Season, are nearly all grown up now. Like a long-running television show where young actors grow up in front of your eyes, so too have the Picket girls–who all return in this book. 

I would definitely recommend Off The Grid to newcomers looking for an exciting read, but I’d also encourage you to go back to the beginning and start there if you haven’t already. This the perfect series to invest in as a reader, and one of the best franchises of any genre today. 

The only way I’m going off the grid, is if I have a Joe Pickett novel to take with me! 

Why you should read it

If there’s any knock on this book, it’s that it takes about a hundred pages to get to the meat of the story. Now, that’s not to say the beginning isn’t good. There’s a lot of groundwork and backstory to lay, and C.J. Box does it masterfully. I found those pages fun and entertaining, but also essential to the plot. Others, however, may feel like it starts slow. Either way it’s irrelevant, because once the characters all start crossing paths, the fireworks never stop.

Nobody is a bigger fan of pure spy-thrillers than me, but sometimes it’s nice to change it up a bit. Joe Pickett is more like Walker Texas Ranger than Mitch Rapp or Gabriel Allon, but I just can’t get enough of him.

Summer is fast approaching, and with it comes the latest from Brad Thor, Daniel Silva, Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder, Brad Taylor, Ben Coes, John Gilstrap and Joshua Hood. Take this time to cleanse your pallet by reading Off The Grid, then get ready for the CIA operatives and Special Forces heroes to come knocking this June.

Book Details

Author: C.J. Box

Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Release Date: March 8, 2016 (Pre-order now!)




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