Back of Beyond by C.J. Box


Fiction – Kindle edition. Corvus, 2011. 382 pgs. Library copy.

Cody Hoyt returned to his hometown of Helena, Montana after washing out with the police force down in Colorado. His marriage to the woman he married while still in high school disintegrated years ago, and while he tries to be the exact opposite of his own father, his relationship with his son Justin is strained.

Despite the infamy of his family’s criminal behavior in Helena, Cody still manages to get a job as a sheriff with Lewis and Clark County. But the other sheriffs on the force are hesitant about him, especially Larry who has to co-work a case that leads to Cody shooting the county coroner one night.

That little tidbit – Cody shot the coroner – is how the novel opens, and the idea of a county sheriff shooting the coroner proved to be quit the hook for me. I wanted to know how exactly a seemingly accident death by fire in a remote cabin led to a slightly wayward cop shooting the man who is supposed to verify cause of death. (I say slightly wayward because Cody, like seemingly all cops and detectives in crime novels, is a recovering alcoholic.)

The reason why is more mundane – political turf wars in a small town – but the event strips Cody of his badge pending a review. Now completely wayward, Cody continues to investigate the death of Hank Winters, a man Cody knew through AA, on his own.

After making a couple of tenuous connections to crimes in other states that appear to have the same MO, the murder investigation leads Cody to the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park. Solving the crime becomes all the more urgent with Cody realizes that the suspect is on the same guided horseback trip that his son is on.

The first book I finished in 2019 was very nearly finished in 2018. It had been difficult to set the book down as the case was comprised of a number of twist and turns. Cody appeared to be off his rocker with some of the connections he was making, and I wasn’t entirely sure he was on the right path for the first third of the novel.

When Cody reached the parts of Montana that I’m familiar with, the case really began to pick up steam. And the novel began to alternate between Cody and Gracie, a teenager girl on the backcountry trip who has no idea what kind of trip she’s actually on. The switch offered insight that Cody didn’t have about the backcountry trip angle and helped to amplify the urgency to solve the mystery.

Thus, I was all set to rapidly turn pages as the final hours of 2018 slipped away. Unfortunately, the criminal and their motive were exposed about three-fourths of the way through the novel. Once that information was explained to the reader, the story focused on a rescue operation rather than the question of whodunit.

Of course, the story would have felt incomplete had Cody not continued on with the rescue mission. Unfortunately, once the mystery fizzled out, I felt much of my interest did too. Hence why I ended up finishing the book in 2019 rather than making it my final read of the year.

While the whimper rather than bang of an ending was disappointing, I still really enjoyed the story overall. I liked Cody as a character, although I am growing tired of the alcoholic cop stereotype, and I especially liked the way Box’s storytelling kept me on my toes. Now I understand why he was one of my mom’s favorite, go-to authors.

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