In this thirteenth installment of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett novels Box puts together a thought-provoking read that moves with the speed of wildfire roaring through dry timber.
The story is based on a real incident in which a family in Idaho named Sackett sought to build a house on a small piece of property they owned.
Their piece of land, about two-thirds of an acre was about 500 feet from a lake. There was a road and a house between their land and the lake. Other houses had already been built in the area.
Despite the fact there was no water on their property, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled their property was a “wetland” and demanded the Sackett’s remove some gravel they had placed on the land. Just removing the gravel would have exceeded the original cost of the property. In addition the EPA threatened to level fines of up to $75,000 per day for every day the Sacketts were not in compliance.
All of this was done without any due process for the Sacketts to whom Box dedicates this novel.
Box’s plot involves a family named Roberson whose plan for a dream home is thwarted by an apparently senseless EPA ruling that their lot is a wetland.
The family’s attempts to get clarification from the EPA are either ignored or met by threats of fines.
Two armed EPA employees are killed while serving some papers on Butch Roberson and he seems to have fled the area.
Joe Pickett, Box’s everyman game warden, isn’t aware of the murders and encounters Butch Roberson in the mountains where Roberson claims he is scouting elk in preparation for the upcoming hunting season.
Because of some ties between their daughters and some social links, Joe is later suspected of having let Roberson escape but he is none-the-less ordered to lead a team of federal agents in a search for the fugitive.
An EPA executive leaks word that a huge reward will be paid for Roberson dead or alive.
This leads to a vigilante group also hunting for him in the rugged mountains of northern Wyoming.
A forest fire erupts as a result of government stupidity and burns thousands of acres of dead pines killed by pine beetles but left standing as part of controversial federal rules. The fire nearly traps Joe and his prisoner who escape by a harrowing route used centuries ago by Native Americans.
Joe brings Roberson back and with him evidence of wrong doing by the EPA and others. While he knows Roberson is innocent of killing the federal agents, Joe cannot clear him of that crime without implicating someone else. It is best left to the reader to discover who that is.
As usual Box brings his knowledge of Wyoming’s natural wonders and the environmental issues at play there into his work providing depth not always found in the mystery genre. Coupled with questions he raises about government’s infringement on the rights of individuals, Box’s building of tension and excitement in Breaking Point make this a must read book for Box’s fans of whom there are many.
Elby Adamson is a retired English teacher and a Clay Center resident.