When it comes to modern westerns, you won’t find a better author than C.J. Box. His Joe Pickett series launched in 2001, and since then, America’s favorite game warden has gone on to star in seventeen more books — including this year’s The Disappeared, which I honestly think might be Box’s best work to date.
For those who haven’t read Box’s stuff, it’s hard to explain what makes his novels — especially the ones in this series (he also writes standalone books) — so special.
For starters, Joe Pickett is a very unique series protagonist. In a world full of badass assassins, super soldiers, operators, detectives, and overall tough guys, Joe is your everyday kind of guy. He’s average height and weight, not especially good-looking, honest, hard-working, has integrity, can barely shoot his sidearm, loves his family openly, and isn’t necessarily the smartest guy in Wyoming. And yet, readers absolutely adore him, his wife, Marybeth, and their three girls.
Maybe it’s because nobody in any genre has ever really developed a whole family the way Box has over his career. Not only have longtime readers watched the Pickett girls — Sheridan, Lucy, and April — grow up, but their family issues are always intertwined with whatever else is happening in the book. Sure, Joe might be looking for whoever is tracking and killing hunters in the forest (Blood Trail), but when he comes home he has to deal with his daughters arguing over random stuff that’s so important to teenagers.
In fact, some of the very best scenes in the whole series don’t necessarily involve anything essential to the book’s plot. Those memorable moments — whether it’s Joe fighting back tears as he takes Sheridan to college, or listening to the CD Lucy made for him in his truck — are relatable and add depth and soul to the characters in a way that no other author has been able to hit on. Plus, the stories are always gripping, and Box has been known to throw in a wicked-hard twist (I’m personally still recovering from Cold Wind) every once in a while. In fact, he lands another pretty good one in his latest novel, The Disappeared.
I’ve long been a fan of Box’s series and admire his work as a whole, so I jumped at the chance to ask the #1 New York Times bestseller a few questions when the opportunity arose. Read the brief Q&A below, then keep scrolling to read more about The Disappeared, in stores tomorrow, Tuesday, March 27th.
THE DISAPPEARED: Five Questions with C.J. Box
TRBS: Joe Pickett was first introduced in 2001 as the new game warden in Twelve Sleep, Wyoming in your first book, Open Season. Did you ever think back then that you’d still be writing books about him seventeen years later?
Box: “No, I didn’t. In my mind at the time, the novel was a stand-alone about an individual Wyoming game warden and his family and how well-meaning national legislation (in this instance, the Endangered Species Act) can sometimes go awry on the ground where it is meant to be applied. The framework was based on a real situation that took place when I was a small-town newspaper reporter. Although Open Season wasn’t meant to be the first book of a long series (who would have assumed readers would be interested in a game warden series?) it established a foundation and style I still use today without regret. Whew.”
TRBS: Joe Pickett is not your prototypical series protagonist. He’s an average guy, with an average build. He loves his family and isn’t afraid to show it. He’s not a great shot. He’s not always the smartest guy in the room, he’s honest. . . almost to a fault, at times. And yet he has a huge following. Why do you think readers have embraced him over the years the way that they have?
Box: “I think many readers can see themselves as Joe Pickett: dedicated, well-meaning, loyal, and not perfect. About Joe, the New York Times once wrote, ‘…Box introduced us to his unlikely hero, a game warden named Joe Pickett, a decent man who lives paycheck to paycheck and who is deeply fond of his wife and his three daughters. Pickett isn’t especially remarkable except for his honesty and for a quality that Harold Bloom attributes to Shakespeare — the ability to think everything through for himself.’
“I also think the tension is increased in the novels when the reader knows that Joe could really screw up and that no one is safe.”
TRBS: A few books ago (Off The Grid) Joe celebrated his 47th birthday. How long do you think he can keep doing what he’s doing, and do you ever worry that you might run out of story ideas for him?
Box: “The books take place in real time, so inevitably, Joe will get too old to run around doing game warden things, but that’s still a long ways off. Some of the books take place a year from the previous one, but others are just a few months down the road or even back-to-back. So, there’s still plenty of stories to tell and I’m lucky that there is so much material out there. I think by the time Joe should retire I will too.”
TRBS: Sheridan, the oldest of the Pickett girls, plays a prominent role in The Disappeared. Out of Joe’s three daughters, she’s always been the most like him, and, not to give anything away about the new book, she proves she can handle herself here. Is there a chance she could one day star in her own book, or maybe even her own spinoff series?
Box: “I don’t think that far ahead, to be honest. I take it one year and one book at a time. I do love writing about Joe’s family and the maturation and growth of his daughters. Sheridan has been an important character since she was seven years old in Open Season, but I want the other girls to shine as well.”
TRBS: Lastly, you’ve consistently put out two books every other year. Will that trend continue in 2019, and how much time (if any) do you take off between finishing one Joe Pickett book and starting the next?
Box: “I’m on a book-and-a-half-a-year pace, with a standalone coming out every other year. I plan to continue that pace for a while. Joe Pickett books will definitely continue on the one book a year schedule for years to come.”
Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett has two lethal cases to contend with in the electrifying new novel from #1 New York Times-bestselling author C. J. Box.
Wyoming’s new governor isn’t sure what to make of Joe Pickett, but he has a job for him that is extremely delicate. A prominent female British executive never came home from the high-end guest ranch she was visiting, and the British Embassy is pressing hard. Pickett knows that happens sometimes–these ranches are stocked with handsome young cowboys, and “ranch romances” aren’t uncommon. But no sign of her months after she vanished? That suggests something else.
At the same time, his friend Nate Romanowski has asked Joe to intervene with the feds on behalf of falconers who can no longer hunt with eagles even though their permits are in order. Who is blocking the falconers and why? The more he investigates both cases, the more someone wants him to go away. Is it because of the missing woman or because he’s become Nate’s advocate? Or are they somehow connected? The answers, when they come, will be even worse than he’d imagined
Special thanks to C.J. Box for agreeing to take part in this Q&A!
For anyone who hasn’t started Box’s series, don’t wait a second longer. While you’ll likely enjoy things more if you start from the very beginning, there’s no reason you can’t jump in with The Disappeared, and then, while waiting for the next book that’s due out in 2019, go back and read the first seventeen books. Either way, no matter what order you decide to read them in, get your hands on Box’s stuff as soon as possible. . . trust me, you’ll be so glad you did!
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children. For more information, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook!