Monday 25 July 2011

Crime Fiction in the Wilderness

Fresh from a revitalizing pint of the black stuff at the Crown bar in Belfast the Wyoming-based author, CJ Box, looks very comfortable as he sits by the window of the first floor lounge in the Europa hotel. He sets his Stetson to one side, crown down to protect the brim, and offers a firm handshake and easy smile. In a few hours, he’ll launch his latest novel, BACK OF BEYOND, at No Alibis bookstore on Botanic Avenue, but for now, he’s happy to discuss his latest release and the Joe Pickett series which is currently being published by Corvus at a rate of one a month.

BACK OF BEYOND, set in Yellowstone National Park, features an alcoholic detective by the name of Cody Hoyt and he’s the polar opposite of his series character, Joe Pickett. Box believes it’s easier to write the more traditional flawed hero in crime fiction than a family oriented man. For one thing, they have so much freedom in that they don’t have to go home at night to check in with the wife and kids. Cody Hoyt is ‘stripped down’ and unpredictable and so the reader will never really know how far he might go in a given situation. And Box has enjoyed immensely the opportunity to explore a dark side through this broken man.

Box himself could be a character from one of his wilderness thrillers. He’s a keen fisherman and has been on the kind of outfitting adventure featured in BACK OF BEYOND. And his experiences very much inform his writing style. One of his strengths lies in the way he can bring nature to life through prose. Does he go on hikes with a notebook in hand?

“No, just like it’s easier to write about the summer in winter it’s easier to write about the wilderness when you’re not in it.”

An interesting element to Cody Hoyt’s back story is that he’s a keen crime fiction reader and one of the writers he’s a fan of is Ken Bruen. This is a little Stetson-tip to Box’s friendship with the Galway writer. They met at Bouchercon, an American crime fiction convention, a few years back when Bruen introduced himself as a fan of the Joe Pickett series. Since then, they’ve sent each other their novels and share a mutual respect. In fact, CJ Box described Bruen’s novel, AMERICAN SKIN, as his ‘…biggest, boldest, most sweeping and heartfelt novel yet.’

When asked if any other Irish writers have captured his imagination he cites Adrian McKinty and in particular his Colorado-set novel HIDDEN RIVER.

‘I was kind of blown away by his dark Irish sensibility in sunny Colorado. It’s very well done.’

And like so many others he believes McKinty’s work should be much wider read. And in fact, there and then in the Europa lounge, he jots down a reminder on a napkin that he should download McKinty’s FIFTY GRAND when he gets back to his Kindle.

He may be a man of nature but he has not shied away from the new e-publishing phenomenon. The first of a series of short stories available in electronic format can now be downloaded. The information and links can be found on his website, as well as a full bibliography of his printed novels. It’s an impressive backlist and a reader could do much worse than get stuck in at the start of the Pickett series with the thrilling debut, OPEN SEASON.

A burned out cabin in the woods. A dead body. A dinner table set for two

Detective Cody Hoyt is called to the scene. A brilliant cop, Cody is also an alcoholic struggling with two months of sobriety. So it doesn’t help that the body in the cabin is his AA sponsor Hank Winters. It looks like suicide, but Cody is convinced it’s foul play.
So who was at Hank’s cabin? Data pulled from Hank’s fire-damaged hard drive leads Cody to a website running wilderness adventures deep into the most remote parts of Yellowstone National Park. Their big trip of year has just left – a two-week horseback journey into the wild. The very same trip that Cody’s estranged teenage son, Justin, has signed up for.

Cody has no choice but to trek deep into the wild himself. In America’s greatest wilderness, Cody is on his own, he’s out of time, he’s in too deep. He’s in the Back of Beyond!

CJ Box is the author of nine novels including the award-winning Joe Pickett series. He’s the winner of the Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, the Barry Award, and an Edgar Award and L.A. Times Book Prize finalist. Box was named 2007 Writer of the Year by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. His short stories have been featured in America’s Best Mystery Stories 2006 and limited-edition printings. The novels have been national bestsellers and have been translated into 13 languages.


seana graham said...

Nice to see a new post, gb. I haven't gotten to Box yet, though he has many fans here, but he certainly has good taste in crime reading!

Michael Stone said...

Like Seana, I haven't got round to reading Box's novels yet, although they're high on the wishlist. And yeah, he does have fine taste in crime fiction.

Gerard Brennan said...

Seana and Mike - Yup, great taste. And I have to say, he's very much worth getting around to.