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Review: Joe Pickett returns in 'Breaking Point'

"Breaking Point: A Joe Pickett Novel" (Putnam), by C.J. Box

In "Breaking Point," C.J. Box's 13th thriller featuring Wyoming game warden C.J. Pickett, our hero is still willing to mix it up to protect the wild landscape he loves and the colorful characters who roam it. But Joe has finally had all he can take of the desk jockeys who make his job harder than it ought to be.

Joe's mood grows still darker when he learns that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has ordered one of his friends, Butch Roberson, to stop building his dream house on a little plot of land near the eastern border of a ruggedly mountainous national forest. The EPA has declared the site a wetland, but Joe knows that it's dry, without even so much as a creek running through it.

When two EPA officials are dispatched to enforce the order, someone shoots them down and buries them in a shallow grave on Butch's property. Butch, presumed to be the killer, goes on the run, and Joe is ordered to help tenderfoot federal agents track him down in one of the West's most remote and rugged landscapes.

The federal government owns vast tracks of land in the American West, including nearly half of the state of Wyoming, and there has long been tension between locals and federal officials over how the land should be managed. Box has touched on this often in his novels, but in "Breaking Point," he tackles the subject head on, leaving little doubt where his sympathies lie.

The story has everything one could ask for in a Western thriller: well-drawn local characters, soulless bureaucrats whose meddling does more harm than good, lots of guns and horses, plenty of danger and suspense, a spectacular setting and a forest fire thrown in for good measure. The military firepower that the story's chief villain, a regional EPA chief, musters in the hunt for Roberson will strain the credibility of some readers, however.

Box tells his story in the first-rate prose his fans have come to expect: tight, precise language peppered by occasional poetic descriptions of land that both he and Joe Picket call home.

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