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by C.J. Box
GP Putnam's Sons, March 2017
384 pages
ISBN: 0399176616

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

C.J. Box captures the feel of small Western towns better than any other writer. When I was fortunate enough to hear him speak about the lack of anonymity in a small town, I had just moved to a smallish western town of 10,000. Now I'm in the process of moving to a much smaller Wyoming town that is actually mentioned in his latest book, VICIOUS CIRCLE, and I can truly appreciate the interconnectedness of those who are fortunate enough to live in Box's West. To an outsider, the way that each character is connected with so many other characters might seem unrealistic. But, in fact, it is both the charm and, in the criminal world in which Joe Pickett plays, the menace of a part of Wyoming where relying on one's neighbors is crucial to survival.

Joe Pickett, Wyoming Fish and Game Warden, was instrumental in getting Dallas Cates sent off to prison. But not before he killed Cates' brother and father while incapacitating Cates' malevolent mother. At the start of this book, mom is in a wheelchair in prison as Dallas Cates is released. What follows is, in fact, a vicious circle, as retribution rains down on the Pickett family. One of Joe's daughters was one of Cates' lovers in the past. Cates' lawyer's new wife is Joe's wife's mother. Insurance agents, bankers, lawmen, and criminals are all related in one way or another, as Joe attempts to save his family from the evil intent of the Cates' family. And the Cates, while clearly evil and unstable, are smart enough to wreak some true havoc.

As always, Box writes evocatively of the Wyoming landscape. In this case, he contrasts a remote, unapologetically backward mountain town with the much more urbane and self-satisfied gated community of Jackson. I'll let you predict which comes out on the down side of this comparison. However, I'm making this sound much less nuanced than it is in Box's writing. Pickett, in the business of working with criminals, finds lawlessness in both places. He also finds kindness and redemption in both communities.

Box's expert writing brings both the characters and setting to life, as well as giving the reader something to think about. Nonetheless, he does not neglect plot. The book is fast-moving and the plot is highly engaging. The reader is drawn in as the suspense and violence escalate. This is not an easy book to put down. In the end, Pickett's family has suffered, as has Cates'. But there is a satisfying resolution to the plot, while still leaving the door open for future conflicts between the two men. This 17th book in the Joe Pickett series is as good a place to start as any. If this is the first in the series for you, you'll be happy beyond measure that there are sixteen previous books in the series to go back to.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in rural Wyoming.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, March 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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