Evil Morons Blog

Is C.J. Box our best writer of Western Gothic?

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 8.33.32 PMI just noticed that C.J. Box published a new Joe Pickett novel a couple of months ago. It’s called Endangered and it’s the 15th offering in the series.

If you haven’t read any of these, Joe is a fish and game warden stationed in a fictional town east of the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. An incredible amount of criminal activity is routine when Joe’s around. He steps outside his job description to investigate and then confront the bad guys; things “get western,” so there’s plenty of action that can keep you up, reading, until you reach the end.

I’ll write something about Endangered when I get my hands on a copy and have a chance to read it. In the meanwhile, I’ll explain what I mean by “Western Gothic,” and why I like it.

Box published the first Joe Pickett novel in 2001
Box published the first Joe Pickett novel in 2001

Box’s writing, generally, is grounded in realism. Joe is a family man, with a wife and three daughters. The adults have problems at work; the girls have problems at school. Meanwhile, out in Wyoming, the terrain is rough and the weather changes unexpectedly. It’s real world and nobody would contend that Box doesn’t know the West.

But, he also has a soft spot for the spectacular and weird phenomena that crop up in the news and become the stuff of legend. And Box’s plots often hinge on these crazy gothic elements: symbolic crucifixions in hunting camps and on wind turbines; spectral hunters with uncanny tracking abilities; crop circles, cattle mutilations, and characters brought back from the dead like zombies. At times, there’s almost the feeling of a Scoobie-Doo adventure–with epigraphs from Voltaire and Hank Williams Jr.

To this I say, “What more could a reader want?” After all the hard-surfaced 1950s noir I’ve been reading recently, a little bit of cowboy magical realism is a welcome change.

Categories: Pulp Monday

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