Cody Hoyt is your clichéd classic troubled cop on the edge. Divorced, disgraced, alcoholic, with a reputation of being a cop with great investigative instincts but lots of issues, Cody Hoyt is back home in Montana after everything blew up in Denver. These days he tries to stay sober while working as a detective in the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Department. On one rainy night, while aimlessly driving around as he does many a night, he is sent to a remote fire damaged cabin in the Big Belt Mountains where there just might be a body inside.
It has been raining for days and that is the only reason that part of the cabin still stands at all. Once Detective Cody Hoyt finally gets to the cabin and starts poking around, he realizes there is definitely a badly burned body in the cabin. The scene appears to be of a man who got drunk, passed out and accidentally burned to death. It could be as it appears and nothing more. The problem is the scene must be staged as far as Cody is concerned because the plane tickets found in the still standing bedroom indicate the badly charred body was that of a man named Hank Winters. Hank was Cody’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor and definitely did not drink. Hank was there to save Cody and was doing it--- just barely. Cody Hoyt knows for sure that without question Hank was not about to break his multiple years of sobriety for anything. As far as Cody is concerned, this was and is murder without question.
A view that others in the department do not share. Especially Sheriff Tubman who is Cody’s boss and worried about reelection more than anything else. With Cody’s well-earned reputation as a screw up, it comes down to Cody and a tenuous ally in the Department working the case. A case that generates a trail of a serial killer and a desperate chase in Yellowstone National Park to save the life of Cody’s teenage son.
C. J. Box also writes the much better Joe Pickett Game Warden Series. Unfortunately this stand alone book does not rise anywhere near to the level of those books. For seasoned readers, many of the characters will be amazingly clichéd and predicable despite the occasional attempt to throw in a twist or two. This creates a read that has the feel of something either written as a movie of the week type deal or to fill a contractual obligation.
The far weaker secondary storyline of the son and others on a multiday trip by horseback through the wilds of Yellowstone brings the main storyline to a dead halt for a number of chapters. That is unfortunate as this happens when the main storyline has finally moved beyond utter clichéd characters and incredible predictability to something that held reader interest. It results in the reader waiting and waiting for the story to once again get going while time is wasted on many forgettable flat characters. Something that, once started, frequently happens throughout the novel as the reader is pulled back and forth between the main storyline and the secondary storyline to follow various characters. As the secondary and third level characters get picked off one by one, it can become an amusing game to guess which character must die next.
Standing on its own, “Back of Beyond” is barely an average book at best for the reasons noted above. Compared to the quality books in the Joe Pickett series, this novel comes up far short and is a very disappointing read. While some readers will agree with the blurb, “a non-stop thrill ride” attributed to Harlan Cohen, others will not and instead hope that C. J. Box gets back to the Joe Pickett series without further time wasting stand alone detours.
Back of Beyond: A Novel
C. J. Box
Minotaur Books (St. Martin’s Press)
Material supplied was an ARC from the Amazon Vine Program at my request.
Kevin R. Tipple © 2011
More reviews at http://kevintipplescorner.blogspot.com/
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