Below Zero by C.J. Box: A review

Six years before the events of this book, Joe and Marybeth Pickett's foster daughter, April, had apparently died in a fiery explosion when the FBI raided the camp of a group of militia-types who were squatting on public lands near Saddlestring, Wyoming. April's birth mother had taken her to the camp. After the fire, the bodies of a woman and a young girl were found in the trailer where Joe had seen April. It was assumed that the body was hers. The Picketts buried the child and grieved for her.

But was the body really April's? That is thrown into question because now, out of the blue, the Picketts' older daughter, Sheridan, is receiving text messages from someone who claims to be April. Is it possible? Where is she, this child who would now be fourteen years old?

Joe Pickett is in disgrace in his job after the events of the last book, in which he abetted the escape from custody of that noted criminal, and Joe's friend, Nate Romanowski. It is only his relationship with the governor that has saved him from being summarily dismissed, but, as punishment, he has been assigned a post far from his home and family. When he learns of the text messages that his daughter is receiving, he asks the governor to release him from duty so that he can investigate.

He checks the text messages and finds that there is information there that would have been known by April. Can she really be alive?

He gets help from a contact in the FBI in tracking the cell phone that the messages are being sent from and notices a troubling fact: The points from which messages are sent seem to be aligning with reported murders. He learns that the teenage girl - whoever she is - may be traveling with a Chicago mobster and his son who is an environmental warrior. What can possibly be the meaning of all this?

One of the strengths of this series is the well-developed characters of the Pickett family - Joe, Marybeth, Sheridan, and Lucy. But in this book, I felt that the family members' characters were being distorted and that they were cardboard figures, not fully developed people. Moreover, the plot seemed contrived and fell a bit flat for me. I just really had a hard time believing in it or caring much about where it was taking me.

There were some interesting parts of the story, including the efforts of the environmental warrior and his gangster father to reduce the father's carbon footprint on the planet to "below zero" so that the mortally ill father can die in peace. Of course, the ways in which they attempt to reduce the carbon footprint involve creating a very large moral stain, so perhaps not the best choices.

At one point in the book, Box puts the argument between believers in and deniers of human abetted climate change in the voice of Nate Romanowski. Nate reckons that he hasn't really decided what to believe because there are credible arguments on both sides of the issue. No, Nate (and Box), there really aren't, and I think it was just about at this point that I began to lose patience with the book.

Overall, it was in some ways an interesting read but certainly not my favorite of the series.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars    


  1. You have made some interesting points here Dorothy.

  2. Too bad this entry wasn't as good as the rest of the series. I hope successive ones are better. :-)

    1. It was a bit disappointing, especially since the last two that I had read had been really good. But, as you say, perhaps things will pick up again in future books.


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