You’ve probably read several books that you wish never ended. That is absolutely the case for C.J. Box and his best-seller, Off the Grid (New York: Putnam, 2016).
The novel features Joe Pickett, who is a game warden in Wyoming. He, along with his fugitive friend, Nate Romanowski, are caught in the middle of a high-tech, foreign criminal undertaking to knock out power and extract electronic data from large regional areas in the United States. Once successful, the plan was to spread the damage in other places, and perhaps the world. The state’s retiring governor even gets involved, or perhaps better, interferes. To make matters worse, Pickett’s own daughter is a blissful volunteer for the criminals who are behind the project.
The site of the action is the Red Desert, “a beautiful and punishing place for anybody” (inside cover).
Box’s book contains several unpredictable twists that will keep you guessing, but more importantly, engaged.
This is one of several books by Box that I have read. Prior to this, he authored the best-seller, Endangered.
If you are a city-type person, and are more interested in buildings and traffic than wide-open spaces, fresh air, mountains, and scenery, then these books are not likely for you.
But, someone is buying them. That includes me!
One of my favorite non-fiction authors is Stuart Woods. I guess I have read all of his novels over the past 15 years. I just finished Sex, Lies & Serious Money (Putnam, 2016), and am reading his newest, Below the Belt (Putnam, 2017).
One reason I like the books so much is that many of them feature Stone Barrington as the primary character. Barrington is a former New York City policeman, who was injured on the job, and who now serves as counsel to a law firm in the region. He inherited a lot of money from his mother, who was a famous painter, and from an ex-wife who was murdered. Barrington owns four homes, including one in England, and he drives cars we only dream of, and is an established pilot with two of his own planes. Oh, and in case you wonder, he is single, and seems to always have a woman in tow, bouncing around his own and different beds. Some are recurring regulars, but others are just brief encounters. He is a very smart guy, who cannot stay out of trouble – in fact, trouble seems to find him. But, he can rest with comfort, because is best friend, Dino, is the commissioner of the police department in New York City.
I guess everyone has a character who we wish we could be like. Barrington’s life is too dangerous for me, but since I don’t have to live it, I will just enjoy reading it.
Stuart Woods is 79 years old, and according to Bookbrowse.com, is the author of more than sixty novels, including the New York Times–bestselling Stone Barrington series. He is a native of Georgia and began his writing career in the advertising industry. Chiefs, his debut in 1981, won the Edgar Award. An avid sailor and pilot, Woods lives in New Mexico, Florida, and Maine.
If you need some advice on where to start with his books, just contact me, and I will give you some ideas.
I have written before that some of the most popular non-fiction authors today are pressured to churn out books so fast that their quality suffers. I understand how difficult it must be to “take your time,” when publishers and movie studios wag money in front of them, and impose severe pressures to produce a product.
This was the complaint I wrote about some time ago concerning John Sandford. Along with other bloggers, I thought the quality of his recent novels had dipped considerably.
I am pleased to report that this book was of substantially higher quality. I have no evidence that he took any more time writing this than others, but I found the story line crisper, the dialogue more realistic, and the number of errors and untied plot lines minimized. Just like so many of the books, the context is the Minnesota countryside, and there are plenty of guns and shootings. This one centers around the theft of two valuable tigers from a zoo, and their subsequent parts being sold overseas for medicinal purposes.
My view that this book is of higher quality is good news.
Most of Sandford’s books were a “prey” theme. For example, he wrote these, among many others:
- Rules of Prey (1989)
- Shadow Prey (1990)
- Silent Prey (1992)
- Winter Prey (1993)
- Secret Prey (1998)
NOTE: You can find a complete list of his books at this site:
If you don’t know about him, this is the biography that I copied from Amazon.com:
“John Sandford was born John Camp on February 23, 1944, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He attended the public schools in Cedar Rapids, graduating from Washington High School in 1962. He then spent four years at the University of Iowa, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies in 1966. In 1966, he married Susan Lee Jones of Cedar Rapids, a fellow student at the University of Iowa. He was in the U.S. Army from 1966-68, worked as a reporter for the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian from 1968-1970, and went back to the University of Iowa from 1970-1971, where he received a master’s degree in journalism. He was a reporter for The Miami Herald from 1971-78, and then a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press from 1978-1990; in 1980, he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, and he won the Pulitzer in 1986 for a series of stories about a midwestern farm crisis. From 1990 to the present he has written thriller novels. He’s also the author of two non-fiction books, one on plastic surgery and one on art. He is the principal financial backer of a major archaeological project in the Jordan Valley of Israel, with a website at www.rehov.org. In addition to archaeology, he is deeply interested in art (painting) and photography. He both hunts and fishes.”
Give this book a try. I think you will find that he has recovered well as one of our top contemporary novelists.
I have read most of John Sandford’s PREY series books. They are almost all set in Minnesota, and involve two major characters: Lucas Davenport, from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and Virgil Flowers, who works for Lucas. Virgil is referred to in several books in a way that I cannot print in this entry, although I would tell you that both words start with F, and the second word is his last name. Without question, they qualify as mystery and suspense thrillers.
The most recent addition to the collection is Field of Prey (New York: Putnam, 2014). For some reason, I found it to be somewhat more harrowing and sensational than most of the other books. While many of Sandford’s books involve murders, this particular book had so many, and are described so gruesomely, that it gave me special notice. In case you can’t wait, the killers bury the bodies in a field, and a number have been at the bottom for quite some time.
I can’t tell you that I enjoyed this one nearly as much as the others. I notice that some of the reviews on Amazon.com even question if Sandford is the true author, pointing out distinctions in writing style and other facets that do not follow form and custom.
I don’t think this is ghostwritten, but perhaps, a rush to press instead. Maybe everyone involved simply refused to invest the time it took to craft a well-developed and cohesive story.
Even so, I don’t think you boycott this book. It’s worth reading, if nothing else than to keep up with the developments in Lucas’ life, job, and family. If it’s your first Sandford book, you won’t even notice, as you have nothing to compare it to.
To learn about John Sandford, I read this on Amazon.com:
John Sandford was born John Camp on February 23, 1944, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He attended the public schools in Cedar Rapids, graduating from Washington High School in 1962. He then spent four years at the University of Iowa, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies in 1966. In 1966, he married Susan Lee Jones of Cedar Rapids, a fellow student at the University of Iowa. He was in the U.S. Army from 1966-68, worked as a reporter for the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian from 1968-1970, and went back to the University of Iowa from 1970-1971, where he received a master’s degree in journalism. He was a reporter for The Miami Herald from 1971-78, and then a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press from 1978-1990; in 1980, he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, and he won the Pulitzer in 1986 for a series of stories about a midwestern farm crisis. From 1990 to the present he has written thriller novels. He’s also the author of two non-fiction books, one on plastic surgery and one on art. He is the principal financial backer of a major archaeological project in the Jordan Valley of Israel, with a website at www.rehov.org. In addition to archaeology, he is deeply interested in art (painting) and photography. He both hunts and fishes. He has two children, Roswell and Emily, and one grandson, Benjamin. His wife, Susan, died of metastasized breast cancer in May, 2007.
I have read Stuart Woods‘ novels for many years. He publishes three new books a year, rotating major characters and themes. Thirty-nine of his books have made the New York Times fiction best-seller list.
His last few, however, have focused upon Stone Barrington. Barrington is a former cop, and an attorney of counsel in a New York firm, who is also wealthy and a playboy. One lesson from his adventures is that money sometimes winds you up in some pretty difficult places.
Woods is a great writer, and his strength is dialogue among characters. In most cases, you feel as if you are standing with them, observing, reacting, and taking it all in. Rarely do the sexual escapades reach the level of what you would call salacious, but they do present just enough to pique your interest. Surprisingly, only two of the books have been made into television mini-series.
The newest book is called Cut and Thrust (New York: Putnam, 2014). This is a book set in the context of a political convention in Los Angeles, with most of the action at Barrington’s hotel, The Arrington, named after his ex-wife who was murdered in a previous book. In addition to Barrington, the other major characters are the outgoing U.S. President, Will Lee, and his wife, Katharine Lee, who is running for President. Barrington is dating her deputy campaign manager, Ann Keaton.
Frankly, I would love to fly on the airplanes that Barrington flies and travels on, and also, stay at The Arrington. I would not love to see the room service bill for all the breakfasts, lunches, dinners, late night buffets, and bar orders. My favorite book of his was called L.A. Dead, which you would have to find in garage sales.
If you have never heard of Stuart Woods, here is his biography from his web site (www.stuartwoods.com):
Stuart Woods was born in the small southern town of Manchester, Georgia and attended the local public schools, then graduated from the University of Georgia, with a BA in sociology. He doesn’t remember why.
After college, he spent a year in Atlanta and two months in basic training for what he calls “the draft-dodger program” of the Air National Guard. Then, in the autumn of 1960, he moved to New York, in search of a writing job. The magazines and newspapers weren’t hiring, so he got a job in a training program at an advertising agency, earning seventy dollars a week. “It is a measure of my value to the company,” he says, “that my secretary was earning eighty dollars a week.” He spent the whole of the nineteen-sixties in New York, with the exception of ten months, which he spent in Mannheim, Germany, at the request of John F. Kennedy. The Soviets had built the Berlin Wall, and Woods, along with a lot of other national guardsmen, was sent to Germany, “. . . to do God knows what,” as he puts it. What he did, he says, was ” . . . fly a two-and-a-half-ton truck up and down the autobahn.” He notes that the truck was all he ever flew in the Air Force.
At the end of the sixties, he moved to London and worked there for three years in various advertising agencies. In early 1973, he decided that the time had come for him to write the novel he had been thinking about since the age of ten. He moved to Ireland, where some friends found him a small flat in the stableyard of a castle in south County Galway, and he supported himself by working two days a week for a Dublin ad agency, while he worked on the novel. Then, about a hundred pages into the book, he discovered sailing, and “. . . everything went to hell. All I did was sail.”
After a couple of years of this his grandfather died, leaving him, “. . . just enough money to get into debt for a boat,” and he decided to compete in the 1976 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR). Since his previous sailing experience consisted of, “. . . racing a ten-foot plywood dinghy on Sunday afternoons against small children, losing regularly,” he spent eighteen months learning more about sailing and celestial navigation while his new 30-foot yacht, a Ron Holland design called Golden Harp, was being built at a yard in Cork. He moved to a nearby gamekeeper’s cottage on a big estate, on the Owenboy River, above Cork Harbor, to be near the boatyard.
The race began at Plymouth England in June of ’76. He completed his passage to Newport, Rhode Island in forty-five days, finishing in the middle of the fleet, which was not bad since his boat was one of the smallest. How did he manage being entirely alone for six weeks at sea? “The company was good,” he says.
The next couple of years were spent in Georgia, writing two non-fiction books: Blue Water, Green Skipper was an account of his Irish experience and the transatlantic race, and A Romantic’s Guide to the Country Inns of Britain and Ireland, which was a travel book, done on a whim. He also did some more sailing. In August of 1979 he competed, on a friend’s yacht, in the tragic Fastnet Race of 1979, which was struck by a huge storm. Fifteen competitors and four observers lost their lives, but Stuart and his host crew finished in good order, with little damage. (The story of the ’79 Fastnet Race was told in the book, Fastnet Force 10, written by a fellow crewmember of Stuart, John Rousmaniere.) That October and November, he spent skippering his friend’s yacht back across the Atlantic, with a crew of six, calling at the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands and finishing at Antigua, in the Caribbean.
In the meantime, the British publisher of Blue Water, Green Skipper, had sold the American rights to W.W. Norton, a New York publishing house, who also contracted to publish his novel, on the basis of two hundred pages and an outline, for an advance of $7500. “I was out of excuses to not finish it, and I had taken their money, so I finally had to get to work.” He finished the book and it was published in March of 1981, eight years after he had begun it. The novel was called Chiefs.
Though only 20,000 copies were printed in hardback, the book achieved a large paperback sale and was made into a six-hour television drama for CBS-TV, starring Charlton Heston, at the head of an all-star cast that included Danny Glover, Billy Dee Williams and John Goodman. The 25th anniversary of Chiefs came in March, 2006, and W.W. Norton published a special commemorative replica edition of the hardcover first edition, which can still be ordered from any bookstore.
Chiefs established Woods as a novelist. The book won the Edgar Allan Poe prize from the Mystery Writers of America, and he was later nominated again for Palindrome. More recently he was awarded France’s Prix de Literature Policiere, for Imperfect Strangers. He has since been prolific, having published his fiftieth novel, Severe Clear in September 2012. Next summer, at a date to be determined, Paris Match will be released.
After publishing fifteen novels before appearing on the New York Times bestseller list, he has since had thirty-nine straight bestsellers on the the Times hardcover list.
He is a licensed, instrument-rated private pilot, with 3,400 hours total time, and he currently flies a Cessna Citation Mustang jet (see photo below,) and in September, 2013, moved up to the new Citation M-2, and his wife, Jeanmarie, who has recently earned her private pilot, instrument and multi-engine ratings, will train for the copilot’s seat in the new jet. Stuart sails on other peoples’ boats, owns a Hinckley T38 power boat (hinckleyyachts.com) and is a partner in a 85-foot 1935 Trumpy motor yacht,Enticer, (which can be seen atwww.woodenyachts.com and on the cover ofLoitering With Intent). The yacht has been recently restored to like-new condition.
Stuart Woods is no longer a born-again bachelor, having married the former Jeanmarie Cooper of Key West in January, 2013 and they live with a Labrador Retriever named Fred in Key West, Florida, on Mount Desert Island, in Maine, and, occasionally, in a New York City pied a terre. (Of a warm nature, he says he’s always looking for 70 degrees Fahrenheit.)
If this post inspires you to read Stuart Woods’ books, go back as far as you can, and just start reading. Many of the titles are available in paperback, and through secondary sellers available from Amazon.com.
I was a late addition to C.J. Box thrillers. My first was The Highway. The most recent is Stone Cold, a novel featuring Joe Pickett, a game warden in the spacious hills and valleys of Wyoming (New York: Putnam, 2014).
Before you tell me what I already know, several other authors have used this title. “Stone Cold” is a book title penned by
- Andrea Kane
- David Baldacci
- Robert Swindells
- Robert B. Parker
- Joel Goldman
Who is C.J. Box? From his web site, we learn he is “the Top Five New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels including the Joe Pickett series. He won the Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Novel (Blue Heaven, 2009) as well as the Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, the Barry Award, and the 2010 Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Award for fiction. His short stories have been featured in America’s Best Mystery Stories of 2006 and limited-edition printings. 2008 novel Blood Trail was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin (Ireland) Literary Award. The novels have been translated into 27 languages. Open Season, Blue Heaven and Nowhere To Run have been optioned for film. Over 3 million copies of his novels have been sold in the U.S. alone.
Box is a Wyoming native and has worked as a ranch hand, surveyor, fishing guide, a small town newspaper reporter and editor, and he owned an international tourism marketing firm with his wife Laurie. In 2008, Box was awarded the “BIG WYO” Award from the state tourism industry. An avid outdoorsman, Box has hunted, fished, hiked, ridden, and skied throughout Wyoming and the Mountain West. He served on the Board of Directors for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. They have three daughters. He lives in Wyoming.“
Of course, Wyoming is “Curt Gowdy‘ country. The cowboy, Gowdy was a top-flite sportscaster for all three major networks, and one of his shows, The American Sportsman, frequently featured hunting and fishing in Wyoming. In this book, you get the sensations of of open space, fresh air, clean streams, and clear skies.
But, not always. There’s also plenty of blood, fire, and mischief. And that is what makes this book so good.
This is what the author says about the lead character, Joe Pickett, on his web site:
“Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett has now been the protagonist in thirteen novels, starting with Open Season in 2001. Over that time, he’s taken on environmental terrorists, rogue federal land managers, animal mutilators, crazed cowboy hitmen, corrupt bureaucrats, homicidal animal rights advocates, and violent dysfunctional families. Joe has matured, lost some of his innocence and naïveté, and committed acts that continue to haunt him. But through it all, he has remained true to himself and his family. And even when he knows that pursuing justice will bring the community, state, and his superiors down on his head, well… he just can’t help it.
“About Joe, the New York Times once wrote, “…Box introduced us to his unlikely hero, a game warden named Joe Pickett, a decent man who lives paycheck to paycheck and who is deeply fond of his wife and his three daughters. Pickett isn’t especially remarkable except for his honesty and for a quality that Harold Bloom attributes to Shakespeare — the ability to think everything through for himself.” I still like that. I’ve been surprised and gratified how the character of Joe Pickett has resonated with readers across the country and around the world.
“The character of Joe Pickett is, in a way, the antithesis of many modern literary protagonists. He’s happily married with a growing family of daughters. He does not arrive with excess emotional baggage, or a dark past that haunts him. He works hard and tries, sincerely, to “do the right thing.” He doesn’t talk much. He’s a lousy shot. He’s human, and real, which means he sometimes screws up.
“Game wardens are unique because they can legitimately be involved in just about every major event or situation that involves the outdoors and the rough edges of the rural new west. They’re trained and armed law enforcement officers, and nearly every human they encounter in the field is armed, which is unique. Often, they’re too far from town to call backup in an emergency so they’re forced to deal with situations with their experience, weapons, and wits. Their districts can encompass 5,000 square miles of rough country filled with wildlife, history, schemes, and secrets. By necessity, they’re lone wolves.
“I’ve ridden on patrol with game wardens to try and get it right. I think I have, because the novels and the character have been embraced by the game wardens themselves (as well as their long-suffering wives). I try hard to portray their lives accurately, and in 2005 I received a certificate of appreciation from the Wyoming Game Warden Association. My novels have won quite a few awards over the years, but that one is very special.
“When I think of Joe Pickett, I don’t think of an action hero, or a smooth operator, or an actor. I always picture him as he is: a western archetype — briefly described in the novels only as “lean and of medium height” — alone in his pickup truck, accompanied by his dog or perhaps his sidekick Nate Romanowski, perched on a mountain under a huge blue sky, contemplating hundreds of miles of raw Wyoming landscape laid out in front of him.
“Real world experiences provide the background for Joe Pickett novels. While working on ranches and exploration survey crews, I learned first-hand about the beauty, cruelty, and balance of the natural world. The land itself – the environment – plays a major role in all the Joe Pickett novels. That’s because the land in the Rocky Mountain west dominates day-to-day existence. The fight over that land provides the conflict and the stories. This fight has economic, ideological, historical, and theological overtones. It’s a serious fight with enormous consequences.
“Joe doesn’t enter every fight with an agenda other than to do the right thing. It’s his fatal flaw. Wish him luck.”
“Everything about the man is a mystery: the massive ranch in the remote Black Hills of Wyoming that nobody ever visits, the women who live with him, the secret philanthropies, the private airstrip, the sudden disappearances. And especially the persistent rumors that the man’s wealth comes from killing people.
“Joe Pickett, still officially a game warden but now mostly a troubleshooter for the governor, is assigned to find out what the truth is, but he discovers a lot more than he’d bargained for. There are two other men living up at that ranch. One is a stone-cold killer who takes an instant dislike to Joe. The other is new—but Joe knows him all too well. The first man doesn’t frighten Joe. The second is another story entirely.”
There’s plenty of action here for country folks and city slickers. Pick it up soon.