C.J. Box will read from, discuss and sign copies of his new novel “Vicious Circle” at 7 p.m. Friday, March 24 at the KiMo Theatre, Fifth and Central NW. The “signature” event , which is free and open to the public, is part of the KiMo’s 90th anniversary celebration.

By David Steinberg

C.J. Box credits his stint in journalism for teaching him discipline.

Box has been writing one Joe Pickett novel every year since 2001 and in some alternating years two books, a Joe Pickett and a stand-alone.

His newest book is “Vicious Circle,” the 17th title in the Joe Pickett crime series.

“I just go to work every day. I think I’m a pretty efficient writer. Once I get the outline done I just sit down and go,” Box said. “I try to get a certain amount of work done every day, usually five days a week and usually over six or seven months.”

He writes in an office that had been the rafters of the barn on his 200-acre ranch near Saratoga, Wyo.

“Vicious Circle,” Box said, draws on the earlier Pickett books retroducing a number of characters, a literary technique he hadn’t used in the series.

Pickett, a game warden in Twelve Sleep County, Wyo., believes that ex-con Dallas Cates, a former rodeo champion, is seeking revenge. He is. Cates blames Pickett for the fight that left three members of Cates’ family dead and a fourth, his mother, in prison. Now Cates is facing a murder charge, and he and his deadly cohorts intend to take out Pickett and his family. You can see the title meaning Cates is viciously circling his prey.

Stressing a small-town flavor, Box interlaces criminal investigation with stories of family, friends and associates. DA Dulcie Schalk is a close horse-riding friend of Pickett’s wife, Marybeth. Cates and the Picketts’ daughter, April, had been in a  rough relationship when Cates was on the rodeo circuit.  Pickett’s mother-in-law Missy is the recent spouse of a celebrated defense attorney now representing Cates in court.

Box doesn’t think of the Pickett series as crime novels. They have been built around controversies common to many Western states, controversies such as energy development, endangered species, resorts. “Vicious Circle” is more of a personal story. 

And Box doesn’t think of protagonist as an action hero, but more a Western archetype. The author has briefly described Pickett in the novels as “thin and of medium height” and by occupation a law enforcement loner responsible for covering as many as thousands of square miles.

The most recent of Box’s awards was the 2016 Literature Award given to his Pickett novel “Endangered” by the National Cowboy Museum and Western Heritage Center.

Later this year, “Paradise Valley,” the last volume in Box’s stand-alone Highway Quartet, will be released. The quartet is about a long-haul truck driver who’s a serial killer.

Box grew up reading a lot. Authors who were his early inspirations included A.B. Guthrie and Thomas McGuane. Other favorite crime genre writers are Michael Connelly, John Sandford and George Pelecanos. “Raymond Chandler was the first one I got into,” he said. “I never thought I was writing mysteries until I was categorized as such. I think they’re more contemporary Western novels.”

Box is one of two well-known present-day Wyoming-based novelists. The other is Craig Johnson, author of the crime series with Sheriff Walt Longmire. Some of the Longmire books have been adapted to a TV series filmed in New Mexico.