The Saratoga Sun -

Wolf Pack on the loose

Nineteenth book in best-selling Joe Pickett series released Tuesday


March 13, 2019

Dave Neligh Photo courtesy

The book jacket C.J. Box.

"I talked with Marybeth," former governor Spencer Rulon said. "I hear you might need a lawyer."

Joe smiled. "I think I do."

C.J. Box, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Joe Pickett series, left readers with quite a cliffhanger at the end of "The Disappeared," Box's 18th book in the long-running series. Following a mission in the Upper North Platte River Valley on behalf of Governor Colter Allen, the game warden with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department was last seen in the back of a Wyoming Highway Patrol cruiser.

As the saying goes, though, you can't keep a good man down.

With "Wolf Pack," the 19th book in the series, we catch up with Pickett three-and-a-half months after the events in Saratoga where he's been restored to the Saddlestring district in Twelve Sleep County. Along with having his job back, Pickett also has a new house, just in time for his youngest daughter to graduate high school, and a new truck.

Art imitates life.

The newest book in the series comes following a major move for Box as well. The author originally got his writing start working for the Saratoga Sun in the early 1980s under then owner Dick Perue and he has made no secret that the area has continually inspired his novels. Between the release of "The Disappeared" and "Wolf Pack," Box has finished moving from Cheyenne, where he and his wife had lived for several years, back to Saratoga.

"I love it, I really do," said Box. "All the things we liked about it are still here. We've made new friends and our old friends are still here. It also, it really helps with the books because I've always kind of had this community in mind when I've written the books, but for a lot of years it was from memory as opposed to the day-to-day."

Joe had two stops in the town of Saddlestring that evening on his way to his new home on the river, and he intended to make them quick.

"In this book, for example, something I had sort of forgotten about. When Joe Pickett goes to the post office. It is very much a Saratoga post office experience where you might get caught up for 40 minutes in there answering questions, talking to people, or he's trying to time it because he's in a hurry," Box said. "When can he get there, get his mail and get out and not have somebody ask him about something?"

The post office counter closed at five sharp and he could see the postal workers behind the glass preparing to do just that. It was a good time to get mail, he'd found.

It is common knowledge in small-town Wyoming that the best places to get some face-to-face time with the local game warden, or wildlife biologist, is at the post office, the gas station or the grocery store.

Going to the grocery store in uniform was as dangerous as going to the post office. He was just waiting for someone to sidle by him with a cart and ask why his entire left side was covered with dried mud.

"When he goes to the grocery store to pick up the special birthday dinner, they all know what's going on, and those are just little things that I think I probably would have just overlooked or forgotten about," said Box.

Pickett and Box aren't the only one who have had major life changes, though. In "Wolf Pack," the game warden's best friend, Nate Romanowski, is dealing with change as well. Readers already got a glimpse of Romanowski's move towards domestication in "The Disappeared."

"With this particular book in the series, I really set out to shake it up," Box said. "You expect Nate to be a certain way, do a certain thing and here he's getting domesticated whereas Joe and Marybeth are looking at the empty nest for the first time. So, I kind of wanted to juxtapose the two and switch it up. i'm already into the next book and it does make for a different dynamic completely."

Box shakes things up in multiple ways with "Wolf Pack," as he introduces 21st century technology to the West. At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to Katelyn Hamm, a game warden whose district is right next to Pickett's, as she observes a drone being used to harass wildlife.

"The idea kind of came because, one day, I saw a drone fly over the hillside at our place south of town. Came over, hovered around, went back. I think it might have been, like, for real estate or something like that, but it made me think how, in the wide open country, a drone can see everything," said Box.

While there hasn't been any confirmed case of drones being used to harass wildlife in Wyoming, there have been cases reported elsewhere in the United States and the world. Despite no confirmed cases in Wyoming, the State Legislature passed a law making it illegal to scout for wildlife with drones, similar to how it is illegal to do the same with a manned aircraft.

"How would you ever catch these guys? You'd have to catch them in the act and that's tough. So, it is an issue," Box said. "I talked to a game warden over in Cheyenne and he didn't know of any specific incidents, but he had heard rumors up around Cody of an outfitter trying to find big elk."

For Box, the use of technology with hunting brings about an ethical dilemma and one he wanted to use to open "Wolf Pack" with. When we are first introduced to Katelyn Hamm, though, she isn't looking for drones, but shed hunters who are hunting out of season.

"I went on ride alongs with Kim Olson over in Baggs. She was really great, I really like her. She's a real pro and she's very dedicated to her job and it was really interesting bouncing around with her because it was this time of year last year and we were in fact trying to catch shed hunters, which is a real issue over there and it's just her," said Box.

Elk antlers can go for as much as $13.50 per pound on the West Coast, mule deer antlers for $11.50 per pound, moose antlers for $11 a pound and whitetail deer for $10 a pound.

"When the price of antlers is as high as it is, I can almost get it. And I've seen people roll through town with a bunch of antlers in the back," Box said. "It's also the kind of thing that we're familiar with here that, in other parts of the country or the world, it's just the most bizarre thing they've ever heard of. I love to put stuff like that in, that's familiar here, but odd in other places."

With now nearly 20 books in the series, fans may be wondering when Joe Pickett will make it to the big screen, or even the small screen. Last year, when Box announced that "The Disappeared" would take place in the Platte Valley, he also announced that the Joe Pickett series had been bought by Paramount Television and Doug Wick, producer of "Gladiator" and "The Great Gatsby."

Photo courtesy Penguin Random House

"Wolf Pack" is the 19th book in the Joe Pickett series.

The series is still in development and showrunners have been hired to write the pilot episode and work on the narrative arc for the first season. While Box was hopeful last year that the series would be shot in Wyoming, the failure of House Bill 164 ended those hopes. HB164, if it passed, would have provided matching funds from local lodging taxes to support local film production opportunities. The bill failed on 3rd reading in the House of Representatives with Rep. Jerry Paxton voting in favor and Rep. Donald Burkhart voting against the bill.

"Wolf Pack" was released on March 12 and had already surpassed "The Disappeared" by 21 percent in pre-orders. While Box will be travelling across the country for his book signing tour, there will be four stops for locals that aren't a part of the tour for the new book.

Signings will take place at the Carbon County Museum at 5 p.m. on April 12 and at the Wolf Hotel at 2 p.m. on June 22. Box will also be making appearances at the Saratoga Museum and the Grand Encampment Museum in the summer.


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