A middling C.J. Box novel is better than the best efforts of most mystery/thriller authors, but this is a middling entry in the Joe Pickett series, full of great setups and wonderful suspense undermined by the sped-up wrapups of several plot threads, all executed with all the grimace-inducing squealing of a fast-forwarded tape. And that's only the ones that were resolved in this admirably ambitious but ultimately overstuffed novel.
Before the wheels come off, however, Box keeps things spinning with his usual superlative skill. A lot of mysterious new characters are introduced, and a handful of former ones make appearances. Somehow LONG RANGE makes room for a vengeful FBI agent, a Mexican cartel hitman, an eccentric film producer, an inscrutable sheriff, a Florida millionaire and a lawyer named Kink. And things always gent interesting when Joe's biggest nemesis — his mother-in-law — comes back to town to wreak more havoc in his family's life. And there's a number of other equally interesting characters. But most of them don't get satisfying character arcs — they feel more cauterized than tied off and up — and overall, LONG RANGE reads like a book that was meant to be about 150 pages longer but was hastily rewritten or edited down to a more conventional page count. Why else would the last several chapters — and several plot lines — get wrapped up at 78-rpm speed?
Box is good, and LONG RANGE is well worth the read, but he's better than what he delivered here, and I have no doubt he'll deliver it. Twenty book into the series, there's no sense that he's losing interest in Joe Pickett, Nate Romanowski and Co. — if anything, LONG RANGE indicates that he's so over-interested in them that he doesn't know how to deal with all his good ideas. If that's the case, someday I hope to read a "director's cut" of this book—if, as I suspect, a lot of pages were left on the cutting-room floor.