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C. J. Box
Force of Nature
G. P. Putnam & Sons / Penguin Putnam
US Trade Hardcover First
ISBN 978-0-399-15826-1
Publication Date: 03-20-2012
388 Pages; $27.50
Date Reviewed: 03-30-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  Mystery  General Fiction

The line between man and nature is the only artificial creation of man that is not part of nature. Our cities, our technology and in particular our selves are all natural, as much as we would like to think otherwise. It is in our nature to create nests that destroy the landscape, and build transport to carry our fragile bodies farther and faster than the bodies themselves can move. In C. J. Box's latest novel, man is indeed the greatest 'Force of Nature,' and as well, a victim of his own nature.

The novel begins the day after the previous book, 'Cold Wind,' ended. Bodies are discovered and Joe Pickett's off-the-grid ex-Special Forces friend, Nate Romanowski, is involved. All the times readers and Joe himself have been teased in the past about Nate's mysterious past are about to pay off, and the payout won't make anyone richer. Ignorance will beget violence. The chase is on and there is little room for miscalculation. But mistakes are an integral part of human nature, even for the most sophisticated predators.

'Force of Nature' is darker and more violent than other Joe Pickett novels. Box's plot reaches back into Nate's past to find humans who make Nate's falcons seem beneficent in the manner and reasons by and for which they kill. Box has also set himself up a very difficult and delicate problem; Joe Pickett is the main character in a book where he has to take a back seat to his friend Nate. That's a balancing act that is very difficult to pull off, but Box's careful plotting and genuinely likeable characters make it possible. When the first bodies are discovered, Joe, who has a new trainee, is pulled into the investigation by Sheriff McLanahan, an oily incompetent. Joe's buddy Nate is the obvious suspect. The race is on to find Nate, as Nate has to find those ultimately responsible for the violence, and confront his past.

Box writes with a crisp prose that reflects the glory of his environment without elaboration. He can frame a scene of action with the expertise of a motion picture director, and there are plenty of examples in this novel that demonstrate his skill. The dialogue is passionate when it needs to be and terse when required. Only rarely will readers be cognizant of anything other than the story and the characters.

Box's approach to handling the split in this novel is to examine the ethics of his characters, as Joe and Nate are forced to make difficult, life-threatening choices. Joe has always been about family, which is for him a force of nature, one that includes Nate. And as Nate reveals his past, Box cleverly brings in a bit of real history to force readers to think about choices they have made, and those made for them. As easily as it reads, it is also both poignant and thought-provoking.

Box does not short us on the mystery aspects of what we're reading. Clues and suspects are offered then revealed in a manner where your participation as a reader is fully rewarded. You will get to yell at the characters, and yes, you will find them surprising you back. All this plays out against the backdrop of big country, magnificently described with falconry expertly intertwined and integral to the plot.

'Force of Nature' is a well-earned and well-wrought reward for readers of C. J. Box' series. Without sidelining his main character, Joe Pickett, or taking him out of character, Box gives us an involving and very intense Nate Romanowski novel. That Box pulls off the inclusion of the bit of history in Nate's background is every bit as exciting as the falcons swooping down on their prey. But he does so in manner that will leave readers satisfied with a "regular" Joe Pickett novel sometime down the line, and that in itself is an accomplishment.

In the novel, Nate refers to the state of yarak, in which a falcon, or any other predator, is fully engaged in his world and his pursuit of prey. Box clearly reached that state himself as he wrote 'Force of Nature,' pursuing his story without fear, ultimately killing the question of Nate's past with power and grace.

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