Review by WF Pray, author of A Dozen Miles of Unpaved Road and Terminal Cure

The Disappeared is the tale of a missing English businesswoman, the mysterious burning of bodies in a lumber mill’s furnace, and a governor’s political shenanigans surrounding a puzzling green energy project; these are some of the plot features that propel this story forward. I selected the CJ Box, Joe Pickett book, The Disappeared, largely at random, hoping that it would be a fair sample of the author’s extensive Joe Pickett series.

I liked the story line and I liked the writing. The story of The Disappeared is largely carried by the narrative of the hero, Joe Pickett, Wyoming Game Warden; there is just enough complexity in the tale of a missing British businesswoman, numerous mystifying cremations, and corrupt politicians, to titillate your interest, but not enough to get you lost in the weeds. There’s not a lot of fat in this novel, but where the story line does begin to wander out of frame the skimming is quick and easy. The Disappeared is not a page turner, but it is smooth, easy reading by an author with solid writing credentials and a good story to tell.

Be advised, however, that like most mass-marketed novels, The Disappeared is formulaic. Think back to the Robert Parker’s Spencer series about the Boston Detective with unorthodox methods. Only instead of Spencer we have Joe Pickett, and Spencer’s sidekick, Hawk, becomes Joe’s sidekick, Nate, and Sheridan (Joe’s daughter) as Spencer’s girlfriend, Susan Silverman—except that daughter Sheridan gets involved in the plot in ways far deeper than girlfriend Susan ever did.

While the formula is noticeable it is not in the least distracting. In fact, there is not much to distract the reader from an unhurried, developing plot. Except for a few romantic scenes between the daughter Sheridan and a ranch hand named Lance, which does brush up against campy, yet never quite gets there, there are few speed bumps that get in the way of the investigation, e.g., random, undeveloped characters that suddenly pop-up to bridge a gap in the plot line; evidence and records dropped from the story line for unexplained reasons, etc. While these glitches are rare, the use of Nate – Joe’s sidekick – as a knuckle dragging thug that allows Joe to keep his hands clean is high camp and does seriously strain credulity. Even taken all together, and in a 400 page book, these are minor hiccups. Aside from these diversions and a couple of awkward coincidences, the threads of the plot run smoothly, but unfortunately toward a confused ending.

There are several unrelated plot developments running through the story of The Disappeared. They are, as we get to the end, not only insignificantly related to each other, but do tend to draw the energy from each other. It must also be noted that none of these threads reach an independent satisfactory conclusion. The ending of The Disappeared ran from awkwardly confusing to weird. In fact, so little was explained that the ending pushed the rest of the story lines in the direction of a nothing burger. This seems a little harsh and may not be any fault of the author. I honestly had the feeling that the publisher objected to the original ending and demanded changes from Box. Every published author has had this experience. Consequently, Box might have had to cobble together a different ending that satisfied the desires of the publisher. I won’t go into any of the details surrounding the ending as length is an issue here, and then too I don’t want to completely give away the twist at the end. And there was a twist – in fact there were several that merged in the final pages– but again, none of these resolved independently in an entirely satisfactory way.

Will I pick up a Joe Pickett novel again? Most likely I will. I enjoyed The Disappeared and recommend giving it a read. Despite my small criticisms, this was a fun, fast read. But I will read Box again with the clear understanding that while Box offers good clean, escapist fun, the formula-driven plot will leave limited room for originality. If this turns out to be true, this could lead to quickly burning out the Joe Pickett series long before a majority of the books have been read. That would be unfortunate for a unique writer in the field of thriller mysteries.