CJ Box

CJ Box

Twilight falls on a cold, wet spring day in the mountains of Montana. A cabin smoulders in the forest. In the remains of the kitchen, a table set for two; next door, the remains of a single body. Alerted by hikers, Detective Cody Hoyt is called to the scene. While a brilliant cop, Cody is also an alcoholic struggling with two months of sobriety and it doesn’t help that the body in the cabin is his AA sponsor Hank Winters. It looks like the suicide of a man who’s fallen off the wagon, but Cody knows Hank better than that. He’s convinced its foul play. But after years of bad behaviour directly related to his drinking, Cody has few friends left in the department. And when he shoots and wounds the county coroner in a botched stakeout he is suspended from duty. But Hank was one of the few friends Cody had left and he’s determined to find his killer, badge or no badge.

Who was at Hank’s cabin? Data pulled from Hank’s fire-damaged hard drive leads Cody to a website running wilderness adventures deep into the most remote parts of Yellowstone National Park. Their big trip of year has just left – a two-week horseback journey into the wild. The very same trip that Cody’s estranged teenage son, Justin, has signed up for. Cody has no choice but to trek deep into the wild himself in pursuit of his son and the truth about Hank. In America’s greatest wilderness, Cody is on his own, he’s out of time, he’s in too deep, he’s in the Back of Beyond.

CJ Box’s Back of Beyond took me by complete surprise; deftly exploring the darker side of a recovering alcoholic ready to fall into despair at any moment. That said; one thing remains constant in all of CJ Box’s books – the breath-taking scenery on offer – this time exploring the great wilderness of Yellowstone Park in minute detail, instilling a desire – for me at least – to throw caution to the wind and jump in the saddle of the nearest horse! John Wayne I’m not, but give me a chance to explore the remote trails of Yellowstone Park in Montana and I’ll be there – just need a trusty guide now – CJ?!

Published by Corvus, Back of Beyond is available from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)

Having remained sober for two months, the unexplained death of his closest friend and sponsor, Hank Winters, pulls Cody back into a world full of demons, unpredictability and implosion. Finding a bottle of Jim Beam at the burnt out cabin he grabs the neck of the bottle and walks back to the sanctuary of his car and takes not one but two satisfying gulps. He isn’t strong enough to stop and one gulp follows another until he’s lost control of his faculties. Unwrapping three sticks of gum he tries to hide his guilty secret.

Cody drank fast on an empty stomach. When he put the cap back on the bottle half of it was gone. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, turned on the interior light, and looked at himself in the rear view mirror. He remembered that flushed face from scarred mirror in bar restrooms and from his own bathroom when he got home after closing time.

He said “Helloooo, handsome. And welcome back”

Back of Beyond

Back of Beyond

Cody Hoyt isn’t on the face of it your typical hero or protagonist. He made me shudder, his actions made me squirm and in all honesty I struggled to like him as a character in the early stages of the book. He’s not a likeable guy and shows a blatant disregard for all those around him including family and work colleagues. The first part is hard going but CJ Box remains resolute and explores Hoyt to great effect with an intelligence and depth I hadn’t expected. It’s a risky strategy placing a full blown alcoholic as your lead but you know what? It works. It took a while to hook me in but I got there. With the turn of each page, slowly but surely, Hoyt is brought back to the reader and the makings of a hero are tantalisingly close to the surface.

Characterisation is strong and well developed throughout, each person playing a purposeful role in the adventure. The group travelling the trails in Yellowstone – I keep wanting to call it Jellystone Yogi! – are an eclectic mix of business men, teenagers, lovers and a couple looking to rekindle their forty year marriage. Box develops the supporting cast well and I never once felt he rushed a backstory, allowing a great understanding as to why these bit players were on the trip of a lifetime. What turns out to be an idyllic adventure slowly turns to anything but and it’s how Box introduces fear, uncertainty, guilt and a lack of trust is what makes him a bestselling author today.

Dakota shrugged. “I don’t know what the hell is going on, but something is. You look ahead of us at all those people on horses in this setting, and you think, what a perfect thing. But what you don’t know is what’s going on in everyone’s head, and what they might be thinking about everyone else.”

“That” she said, “is the reason I prefer horses”.

As I’ve already mentioned the Yellowstone imagery Box conjures up is nothing short of magical and it could be argued – strongly I may add – that the Park itself, the animals and predators – including the controversial re-introduction of wolves – it holds is the key character in Back of Beyond. It certainly serves as a healthy foundation and I challenge anyone who has read this book not to come away with a deep saddled desire to visit Montana!

The story itself is certainly what you’d expect from Box. An intelligent multi layered adventure that will leave you guessing until the final throws of the novel. You’re never 100% certain of anything and the author teases with a few well hidden shocks along the way. A deep book at times, the narrative is incredibly fluid and well-paced. I had my doubts at the beginning of this novel but now I’ve reached its conclusion I am certain of one thing – if Box so desires – Cody Hoyt has the potential to be a long term protagonist for a good while to come, delivering a new and intriguing series to the Box stable. Highly Recommended.

Published by Corvus, Back of Beyond is available from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)

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1 Response » to “Back of Beyond by CJ Box – Book Review”

  1. Definitely on my reading list now! Altough I already have quite a deep desire to (re)visit Montana and Yellowstone, the book won’t help on that front I’m afraid.

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