Wolf Pack (Joe Pickett #19), C. J. Box. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019.
Summary: Strong-armed by the F.B.I. from prosecuting illegal drone activity, and confronting a drug cartel’s killers known as the Wolf Pack, Joe Pickett is challenged to protect a community and those he most loves as deaths mount.
It all began with the drone. Game wardens Joe Pickett and Katelyn Hamm try to investigate an illegal drone operator who is causing the death of wildlife. As they get close to prosecuting the offender, they are shut down by strong arm F.B.I. operatives from New York. What is more troubling is that the offender’s son is dating Pickett’s daughter Lucy.
Meanwhile there is a vicious group of contract killers headed Pickett’s way, after a brutal killing in Arizona connected to the mysterious residents being protected by the F.B.I. in Pickett’s town. Known as the Wolf Pack, each of the four are methodical killers, but the scariest is a woman, Abriella, seductively attractive one minute, and utterly cold-blooded in killing the next. As events unfold, she becomes the leader of the Wolf Pack.
Their target is “Mecca” who turns out to be our drone pilot in witness protection. As Pickett and his friends begin to connect the dots, the Wolf Pack closes in. Falconer Nate Romanowski sees them roll into town and suspects something foul. Innocent people start turning up dead. As Katelyn, Joe, Nate, a prosecutor, a career F.B.I. agent, a judge, and a sheriff piece together what is going on, they in turn are recognized as dangerous witnesses. They become targets as well with the reader wondering who will come out of all this alive and what will happen to Pickett’s daughter and her boyfriend and Nate’s expectant partner, who all end up in the the climactic confrontation with the Wolf Pack out of which not all will survive.
I’ve heard from other friends who love crime fiction that C.J. Box is a great read. I concur. This was the first of his novels I’ve read (the nineteenth in the series), and I could not put it down. It is not only the rising sense of tension, but the growing sense of appreciation one develops, even in a single work, of the character Joe Pickett. He’s a country game warden who outsmarts New York rogue F.B. I. agents, who is relentless in the execution of his job of protecting wildlife and enforcing game laws, while utterly loyal to his friends. He’s a survivor with a former governor as his defender, helping him get his job back.
Equally, in Abriella, Box creates a truly sinister character, one whose bloodlust is fueled by revenge against all the men who raped her, so scary in the mercurial turns of her temper that even her fellow Wolf Pack members fear her. What will happen when Pickett and Abriella finally face each other, as the reader knows they will?