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Vicious Circle by C.J. Box

Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on March 21, 2017

Vicious Circle is the latest entry in a series that has grown tired. Readers who want to read what is essentially the same story over and over will enjoy it. Readers who hope to find something fresh in a stale series will probably be disappointed.

Dave Farkus calls Joe Pickett and leaves a message to tell him he overheard a conversation that Dallas Cates was having about Joe’s family. He doesn’t reveal the contents of the conversation and he disappears on a hunting trip before Joe can talk to him. Joe takes a break from hunting for a poaching ring to hunt for Farkus. It turns out that other people are also hunting for Farkus. They find him first.

Joe is worried because Dallas Cates had an unpleasant relationship with his daughter Alice. C.J. Box tells us that Dallas served two-to-four years in a penitentiary for a misdemeanor hunting violation, which isn’t possible, but this isn’t the first time Box has been mistaken about Wyoming law. Later, Joe is pleased that he obtained a “clean” statement from a woman in custody because she “didn’t ask for a lawyer,” but seems to be unaware that her statement can’t be used against her because he didn’t give her a Miranda warning. For a law enforcement officer, Joe knows shockingly little about the law.

Marcus Hand (clearly modeled after Wyoming lawyer Gerry Spence) returns in Vicious Circle, having married Joe’s mother-in-law, who also returns. Nate Romanowski is back, conveniently stumbling across the dead body of a woman who is tied into the Dallas Cates story. Nate ruminates about how he misses killing people who (in Nate’s judgment, as opposed to that of, for instance, a jury) deserve to be killed. He almost kills someone based on a three-second snatch of a conversation he overhears, which suggests that Nate’s judgment is questionable at best. Box occasionally assures the reader that Romanowski isn’t a “cold-blooded killer” but that’s exactly what he is.

Why Joe is so fond of this vigilante, who stands for all the lawlessness that Joe supposedly hates, is beyond me. At one point in the novel, Nate cuts off someone’s ears. Joe, who is such a model law enforcement officer that he once ticketed the governor for fishing without a license (as we are reminded in every novel), doesn’t arrest his friend Nate for this act of mayhem. At the end of the book, he even decides not to enforce one of the hunting laws he’s charged with enforcing. Good for him, but Joe’s situational law enforcement should be troubling to readers who admire his sanctimonious “by the book” attitude. Are readers not troubled by Joe’s hypocrisy?

I will say that Vicious Circle takes a more balanced view of the criminal justice system than some other books in the series (perhaps Box has been influenced by Gerry Spence?). The book acknowledges that too many police officers view criminal defense attorneys as the enemy and that too many cops plant evidence or engage in other misconduct to improve the state’s odds of convicting the people they perceive as bad guys. I’m glad Box made that point, but that's not enough to make the novel worth a reader's time.

The contrived plot is familiar and predictable. Joe’s family is threatened, again. Joe and Nate face peril, again. The story flows smoothly and makes for the unchallenging reading experience that Box fans seem to appreciate, but it never generates the kind of tension that a thriller should create. It’s actually kind of dull, as is Joe. It’s a shame Box hasn't done anything to breathe some life into this series.


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