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by CJ Box
GP Putnam's Sons, February 2021
368 pages
ISBN: 0525538275

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

At the start of Dark Sky, C.J. Box's latest novel in the Joe Pickett series, our protagonist finds himself in a familiar bind. As has occurred in the past, Joe is pushed into taking on a task for the governor in order to keep his job as a Wyoming game warden. Although Joe is skilled and knowledgeable, he is always on the verge of losing his much-loved job because of the misadventures he stumbles into. So he cannot ignore the governor when this powerful figure asks him to lead a particularly clueless social media tech billionaire on an elk hunt in the mountains.

The billionaire's name is Steve-2 and he wants to post his adventures on his site for his millions of followers, so they can see him confront the natural world moment by moment. He has a ton of equipment to take with him, and Joe tries to limit the amount that he takes, as the pack horses have to carry it all. They also need equipment to field dress the elk they may catch, along with space to carry the trophy down. Steve-2 is accompanied by a body guard and an assistant.

As the hunting party makes its way up the late autumn trail, they are being watched by a nefarious family. The father, Earl, a big nasty brute, is a skilled tracker. His son Brad is also huge, but not very bright. The other son, Kirby, is a small wiry man, mentally sharp and a fantastic runner. They are short on moral restraint and big on carrying many weapons. More practically, the three have found a way to listen in on Joe's party and seem to be planning some sort of murderous revenge against Steve-2. It seems that Earl's daughter was bullied on social media and took her own life. Although there is much more to the story of what happened to her than we know at the start, it is clear that Earl does not really understand social media and completely blames Steve-2 for his daughter's death.

The family group begins its murderous rampage, killing whomever gets in their way. Soon, Joe and Steve-2 are on the run. In freezing temperatures, without food or weapons or horses, they must somehow evade capture and get down the mountain to safety. Death is close by as they again and again narrowly escape the family following their trail.

Back in town, Joe's wife Marybeth is worried. Joe calls her each night when he is away from home, but now he hasnít called. She reaches out to the sheriff, but he is new on the job and unsure what to do. Then Marybeth contacts Joe's good friend Nate Romanofsky. Nate is a complicated but charismatic character, and readers know from past books that he will stop at nothing to save his friend.

As the adventure continues to unfold, it becomes clear that Dark Sky is a masterfully suspenseful contribution to a series that never ceases to hold the reader's breathless attention.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, March 2021

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