The Disappeared by C.J. Box

Review published on March 30, 2018.

Sometimes you have an image of a writer’s style in your head that is totally wrong. For no intelligent reason I had assumed C.J. Box to be a bit like Sharon Bolton, not that there is anything wrong with that, but it’s not to my taste. So reading The Disappeared totally turned that idea on its head, Box writes more in the territory of Daniel Woodrell or Urban Waite, although with a more easy going style. I have to say I really love this book, it’s a classy thriller. A polished telling of a simple story that is really entertaining. The Disappeared keeps you guessing, as there is more to the story than the initial set up leads you to think. The Disappearance is a perfect Sunday afternoon read, especially now when we are banjaxed by a bit of bad weather – believe me, it’s nothing compared to Wyoming! The cold bleak countryside adds a lot of atmosphere of the thriller.

I was taken by the style from the very first sentence:

“Wylie Frye was used to smelling of smoke and that was long before he became a criminal of sorts.”

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to indicate you will like a novel. Frye is a man the locals avoid because of the smell of smoke hangs around him, he works in the saw dust burner, ‘the beehive’, part of the local lumber mill. A major employer for many years although these are difficult times. They burn mostly at night because of the smoke it creates. Still, for Frye working here is better than his old job in North Dakota where he lost two toes and the end of his little finger to frost bite. This is January in Wyoming, it’s minus nineteen and he doesn’t mind the heat from the fire. Encampment has two bars and fifty people, it sits in the wilderness near Saratoga in the Shadow of the Sierra Madres. Night supervisor doesn’t pay well but Frye has a nice side-line going. Once every ten days or so he gets a call, two men turn up in the middle of the night and use the furnace, no questions asked. Frye makes sure he’s looking the other way when they show up.

Then one night Carol Schmidt lets the dog out late and she sees a car that runs over a stray dog in the street, they don’t mind the animal, they just get on with unloading something near the kiln, it’s not long before a horrible smell hangs in the air. It’s nasty, it’s something she recognises but can’t quite bring to mind.

Joe Pickett is a game warden, he gets a call saying that the governor will fly in to meet him in the morning. Pickett occasionally worked cases for the last governor, Rulon. Colter Allen, the current incumbent, wants Pickett to go to Saratoga and find out what happened to the English guest staying at the luxury Silver Creek Ranch. Kate Shelford-Longden disappeared on the way back to Denver airport. As the Saratoga game warden left his job suddenly there is a vacancy to fill in as cover. It’s a non-negotiable job. The British Ambassador is applying pressure and the Division of Criminal Investigation has got nowhere since last summer, when it happened. Pickett’s daughter Sheridan works as a wrangler on the ranch. It doesn’t take Pickett long to figure out something other than Frye stinks around Saratoga, population 1671, 6785ft above sea level.

This is a classic American rural thriller. The Disappeared takes full advantage of the weather and the wide open spaces to build an atmosphere, there’s a nice eco angle to the story. The pace is good and there are enough twists to engage the brain. There is also a little Brit bashing that may go unappreciated in the States but it’s all in good spirits and poking fun at our tabloids and British sensibilities adds to the fun for the British reader. Box is a consummate story teller. I would happily read some of his other novels off the back of The Disappeared.

Paul Burke 4/4

The Disappeared by C.J. Box
Head of Zeus 9781784973179 hbk Mar 2018

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