Back of Beyond
C.J. Box
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Buy *Back of Beyond* by C.J. Box online

Back of Beyond
C.J. Box
496 pages
June 2012
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Jumping on the bandwagon of the current trend for including alcoholism in a plotline, Box begins his novel with a probable suicide, adds an assortment of characters, a wilderness adventure gone terribly wrong, and a twist completely out of left field for a story that can’t make up its mind. It begins simply enough when recovering alcoholic Cody Hoyt, a Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Department Investigator, discovers his sponsor’s cabin in a smoking heap of rubble, Hank Winters caught in the blaze.

“We only get a homicide about once a year. But that’s not good. It’s bad.” Montana investigator Hoyt suspects foul play when an empty liquor bottle is found among the burned debris. Hoyt’s suspicion grows as he enlists the aid of fellow investigator Larry Olson, whose research suggests that Hank’s death is neither an isolated incident nor a suicide. Unfortunately, Cody’s doubts are easily dismissed when he wastes two months of hard-won sobriety on a bottle of whiskey, accidentally shoots the coroner running for reelection, and figuratively shoots himself in the foot by sabotaging the investigation with his compulsive need to binge. Meanwhile, Hoyt’s son is on an isolated wilderness trek with Cody’s ex-wife’s new boyfriend, the boy ultimately at risk as Yellowstone National Park turns into a scene of a deadly carnage.

Box pulls this improbable scenario together in a plot fraught with inconsistencies, too many bad guys, a father on a mission to save his son, and – frankly - too many inane plot points. The best thing about this mystery is the setting, the wilderness a dramatic background to the mayhem of liars, murderers and Hoyt, sober again and determined to reach his son in time. I kept waiting for something to gel, but it never did, overdrawn bad guys in search of the Holy Grail leaving a trail of dead bodies. From ex-drunks to a venal wilderness guide to a savvy teenager who smells a rat, the drunk theme wears thin, the plot doesn’t make sense, and the actions of the good guys always get them killed. The word “Beyond” in the title is appropriate: this title is beyond any semblance of sense.

Box has a decent reputation and fan base, but this novel simply has too many ingredients to make it palatable. Other cabin burnings have been reported. Why? Someone in Hoyt’s department is involved. Why? Strangers gathered for a Yellowstone adventure too easily fall into disarray. Why? Cody can’t resist the bottle he finds after a walk-though of his sponsor’s smoldering cabin. Why? Oh, never mind.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2011

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