‘Endangered’ switches seamlessly between crisis, countryside

“Endangered” by C.J. Box (Putnam, 384 pages, $26.95)

In his Joe Pickett novels, C.J. Box has established a clear-eyed approach to balancing environmental and human issues in compelling plots. Box continues those high standards in his 15th novel about this Wyoming game warden, but a personal situation is even more important in the thrilling “Endangered.”

On the environmental side, Joe has stumbled over the slaughter of a flock of 21 sage grouse, a species that is close to reaching the endangered status. The endangered status would be controversial, wrapped up in “politics and economics.” Many in Wyoming, including the governor, are against it because protecting the grouse would slow or even halt the state’s development of “gas and oil, wind, hydrothermal, or solar energy. An “off-limits” buffer zone would affect “ranchers, developers and everyone else.”

Joe is on the scene, trying to pick up clues that will lead him to the poachers when a personal crisis takes precedence. Mike Reed, the sheriff of Twelve Sleep County, has found April, Joe’s 18-year-old adopted daughter, severely beaten and left in a ditch. April is flown to a Billings, Mont., hospital, where she is placed in a medically induced coma with Marybeth Pickett holding watch over their daughter.Joe is convinced that April was attacked by Dallas Cates, a local rodeo star with whom she ran off about four months ago. The arrest of another suspect doesn’t lessen Joe’s suspicion of Dallas, especially when the game warden is faced with the wrath of the Cates family, including matriarch Brenda, whose protection of her family borders on the pathological.

Box weaves Joe’s concern for his family and his anger at the Cates family into a tightly coiled plot that springs with surprise after surprise. Joe’s devotion to his family is unfailing and the love for his daughters, including college junior Sheridan and high school sophomore Lucy, and his wife, Marybeth, is unconditional. The scenes of him growing even closer to Lucy enhance “Endangered.” The action smoothly switches from the vast Wyoming countryside to the rodeo circuit.

Yet “Endangered” doesn’t neglect the environmental concerns that have always driven this series. Where does the concern for a species override the needs of people? “Endangered” forces readers to ponder uncomfortable issues that Box melds into an edge of the seat thriller.