“Force of Nature” is the twelfth novel in C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series and picks up immediately where “Cold Wind” left off. Nate Romanowski has been a minor player in most of the novels in the series, but he takes center stage in this thriller. Previous novels have teased us with bits and pieces of Nate’s past; however in this latest entry in the series we learn much about Nate’s background—why he has gone underground, shied away from society, and lives as an isolationist in the Wyoming wilderness.

Nate and Joe have an unusual friendship. Nate usually operates outside the law; on the other hand, Joe is a straight arrow whose moral values require him to uphold the law. However, in “Force of Nature” Joe walks a fine line between honoring friendship and upholding the law.

Nate is a master falconer and a fugitive,  an intense character capable of extreme violence. Joe, his family, and Nate have been friends for several years, but Joe has never inquired of Nate’s past, thinking it best if he didn’t know everything. Nate has never explained why he lives the way he does, but now things have changed. His secret and dangerous past may have deadly consequences for his friends and former colleagues, so he tries his best to keep them from harms way.

In 1995, Nate was a Special Forces agent in a unit called the Peregrines, named after one of the rarest birds in falconry. The team leader, Nemecek (their falconer), now in a high position in the government, did something so terrible that he is trying to kill everyone who witnessed the incident, including Nate. Nate warns Joe that he and his family are in extreme danger and insists that Joe get his family out of the area and into hiding.  Nate knows that Nemecek will go after anyone close to Nate in order to lure him out of hiding and try to kill him.

In the meantime, Joe finds his hands full with a new trainee named Luke Brueggemann, elk season is in full swing and on top of everything, three bodies are found floating down the river. Joe’s friend Nate seems the obvious suspect in the murders.

Local law enforcement frequently drafts Joe, a Wyoming game warden in the small town of Saddlestring, to aid in cases when police staffing is short. Besides Nate, there are familiar characters from previous novels—Joe’s nemesis, the incompetent local Sheriff Kyle McLanahan who is running for reelection and his deputy who is running against him.

C.J. Box is a Wyoming author whose appreciation of the wilds of Wyoming is evident in his vivid and descriptive prose. Box takes time to educate readers in the sport of falconry since it plays such an integral part in the story. “Force of Nature” is a darker, more intense and violent novel than Box’s usual style, more a thriller than a mystery, although the mystery elements are there to keep you guessing—just who are the moles that are working with this killer? The action-packed plot between the forces of good and evil with its twists and turns races to the ending at blinding speed.

In the audiobook format, we get added benefit of listening to David Chandler, a Broadway and television actor, deliver a gripping performance of the novel.  “Force of Nature” is available in print and audiobook formats at the Joplin Public Library.