Author C.J. Box returns with the beloved game warden character in his latest modern western novel, Long Range.
Striding across the landscape of an imperfect modern-day Wild West populated by homicidal cowboys, assassins, and shady bureaucrats, game warden Joe Pickett is almost a perfect hero.
The fictional character is not without his flaws. He’s a terrible shot, and is often fooled or beaten by his foes, at least initially. With his iron-clad determination to do the right thing, he sees that justice is served, and he’s had a lot of practice doing it.
New York Times bestselling author C.J. Box has written about the game warden for nearly 20 years; the 20th book in his Joe Pickett series, Long Range, is out now.
In this new story, the stalwart game warden races against time to identify and capture a sniper who has attempted to kill an eccentric local judge. To make matters worse, Pickett’s unpredictable friend, Nate Romanowski, falls under the suspicion of the authorities and a new enigmatic sheriff. As Joe unravels the mystery, he finds himself in the crosshairs of a murderer’s high-powered rifle.
Box says that after a couple of decades, the popular protagonist is the same man he introduced in the first book, Open Season, but older, harder, and a little more cynical.
“[He’s] somebody who has kind of benefited from his experiences and is also a little scarred by some of them,” Box says, adding that the book series takes place in real time. “I just hope that he has progressed in a realistic way. He’s not as naive, by any means, as he was in the first few books.”
The author also constructs novels now in the same way he did when first crafting them in 2001.
“I’ve done so many books now it’s gotten a little easier in terms of craft, but I still start with one or two issues that are localized to the mountain West, or things that are national, and I research those issues and then build a story based around [them],” Box says.
With Long Range he says the idea came about because of the popularity of long-distance shooting, which has taken over the target-shooting world with its advancements in technology, optics, and bullets.
“I went and fired some of those long-distance rifles to get a handle on it, and I was hitting targets I couldn’t see with my naked eye — over a thousand yards right out of the box. It’s amazing,” Box says.
He admits that the one thing he enjoys most about writing a new novel is creating a memorable villain.
“It’s kind of cathartic in a way, but I try not to make them too black-and-white,” Box says. “They’ve got to be real people and have some nuance to them.”
Those not already introduced to Box’s Stetson-wearing hero will soon get the chance to experience his stories off the page. The author says Joe Pickett’s adventures will soon become a TV series. Yup, things are about to get real Western.
Photography: Images courtesy C.J. Box by Dave Neligh