Rocklin, CA, United States
Starting back in the mid 1980's, I was one of the few lawyers who was trying to defend rural landowners like the Roberson's, the endangered protagonists of "Breaking Point". When I say "trying", that's what I mean: As author Box suggests, these federal agents operate outside the Congressionally-enacted law, with unpublished rules and regulations, to the point that it's almost impossible to clear your clients in these cases. Besides, if you try to fight back, they just throw in more charges -- again, as Box suggests. The best you can do is to try to work out some plan that will let your client keep some portion of his land -- although by the time they get done defending themselves, most abandon the farm. Everything they valued has been destroyed. It got so bad that by the mid-1990's, I had to quit. I decided that if I had another sobbing farm wife sitting in my office, listening while I had to explain that there really wasn't much that could be done other than to work out a "deal", I'd go crazy myself. Like my clients, I too walked away. It just hurt too much.
A few things in "Breaking Point" are fiction: I never had a client kill, or even try to kill, a federal agent -- but I did have two who killed themselves. The trauma of having your farm -- in your family for over 100 years -- plowed, planted and harvested every year -- suddenly declared a "wetland" and therefore off limits, subject to horrendous penalties if "disturbed", is just too devastating. Can planted acres be a "wetland"? Indeed. Under federal law, a "wetland" is determined by soil type -- it has nothing to do with its being "wet". No self-respecting duck would ever look at this land, let alone land there. All that's required to constitute a "wetland" is a particular soil type -- merely that the land WOULD SUPPORT hydrophytic vegetation IF IT WERE wet, is enough. Kafkaesque, certainly, but entirely true.
There's more in this book than just the trauma faced by the Roberson family -- the range fire at the end, the tense escape, is one of the best white-knuckle scenes in history. Box is so good that you can picture the whole thing, feel the heat.
As far as I know, C. J. Box is only one of two popular authors who dares to make federal agents the 'bad guys' in some of his books -- P. T. Deutermann being the other. And why not? It's not just pharmaceutical company owners, businessmen, religious leaders and Republicans who do bad things, as virtually every other contemporary author would have you believe. Sometimes there are rogue federal agents, too.
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