Three Weeks to Say Goodbye

C.J. Box turns out a compulsively readable thriller about an adoptive father fighting to keep his baby girl safe.

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While I was reading C.J. Box’s new book, Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, the NFL season was entering its final week. This made football analogies just way too easy.

Without overdoing it, you could liken Box to a general manager for an NFL club. He knows he can assemble an award-winning team of players.

He’s been very successful with his Joe Pickett team (eight novels). These stories about a Wyoming game warden have provided Box with bestseller after bestseller after bestseller and lavish reviews.

Recommended: College football’s Heisman Trophy: from Berwanger to Manziel

So, last year when he introduced a new team to the reading world with the release of “Blue Heaven,” there was worry and skepticism. Why change a good thing?

Was he turning into the literary equivalent of REO Speedwagon?

(At one time, REO was selling out arenas. Then they cheesed out and produced those awful sugary pop ballads in the ’80s instead of sticking to their hard rock “Ridin’ the Storm Out” roots. Had they stayed true, some speculate they would have remained on top of the old school rock world like Aerosmith. Instead, now you can catch them at your local Holiday Inn. Tip your waitresses and try the veal. We’re here all week.)

But thankfully for fans of Box, “Blue Heaven” was an outstanding read and became a runaway hit and, now, a soon-to-be movie.

The better news is that there doesn’t appear to be a sophomore jinx for Box.

He’s changed teams yet again and his latest book, “Three Weeks to Say Goodbye,” is a big-time winner. This book is solid.

But who are we kidding? Do you think Box would put together something like a collection of unicorn haikus? He’s demonstrated that he’s a master storyteller.

And “Three Weeks” doesn’t stray far from the familiar.

As in Box’s other books, the story takes place in the Rocky Mountain West. But unlike the remote mountain town settings of his earlier books, this time Box chooses suburban Denver for the backdrop.

There are brief trips to Montana and his home state of Wyoming in the novel, but for the most part the action takes place in Colorado.

The main character – Jack McGuane – is a good guy.

Happily married to wife Melissa, the only problem they’ve had is not being able to have a family. The problem is solved when they adopt a baby girl named Angelina.

But trouble begins when the deeply deranged birth father, a 17-year-old named Garrett Moreland, wants the child back.

It’s not as if the kid realizes he made a mistake and wants to provide the child a happy and healthy home – not at all.

After meeting Garrett, it becomes obvious that he couldn’t care less about the baby.

In fact, you find out that Garrett couldn’t care less about anything. He’s dead inside. No conscience. No soul. Someone you really, really don’t want to meet.

And now he wants a baby girl?

It turns out that it’s his father, the rich and powerful John Moreland – a sitting federal judge – who really wants the child. But why?

Initially, the judge says his son must learn responsibility as there are consequences for actions.

Later we’re told the judge wants a second chance at raising a child. You know, a do-over.

It’s obvious that his first attempt at fatherhood is a failure (that is, if you consider raising a sociopath to be a bad thing).

But sometimes you shouldn’t give second chances. Mulligans on the golf course are fine. The more of them, the better.

But when it comes to parenthood, perhaps “one and done” is fine.

The law is on the side of the Morelands. The McGuanes don’t have any money.

Furthermore, what attorney wants to battle Judge Moreland?

It’s apparent that this judge has the connections, money, and power to get he wants – always.

Not to mention that his son has the other side of the law covered. He prefers the company of Sur-13 – a powerful gang affiliated with the Mexican Mafia.
You don’t want to cross either Moreland. They seem to be bulletproof.

As the title suggests, Jack has three weeks until he must turn over his daughter.

Box cleverly walks you through each of those days. Nary a one is mundane or typical. And during this time you are introduced to a lot of questionable characters.

Some are repulsive, like the suspected pedophile who works as a campsite host on federal lands – the same federal lands where children have gone missing.

Some are borderline, like Uncle Jeter Hoyt, a recluse from Montana who may have the right intentions but just as easily could put together a Unabomber-like manifesto.

Others are almost likable despite their faults, like Jack’s friend, Cody – a cop who sees laws as rough guidelines. Cody thinks most people should follow the law, even though he doesn’t need to.

He’s only dirty for the “right reasons.”

Box takes you on a classic “man against the machine” ride. And the machine doesn’t flinch.

The odds are stacked against Jack. If he were a football team, he’d be the 2008 Detroit Lions – mismatched at every level.

He’s helpless.

And as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Jack cannot win. Every strategy he pursues is wrongheaded.

But the guy’s desperate. Who wouldn’t be, knowing that handing over his baby girl to her legal father could mean her horrific demise?

Does Jack end up like the 0-16 Lions? Or is he able to snatch a victory at the last minute?

I’m not going to tell you. But I will say that just when you think you’ve figured it out – you haven’t.

And then when you think you’ve got it right a second time – nope, you’re wrong again. It’ll keep you guessing.

I read “Three Weeks to Say Goodbye” during what could have been a miserable flying experience, complete with many delays and cancellations.

Thanks to C.J. Box, I didn’t mind the flights – not even the guy behind me who used his tray table as a drum set and my head as a cymbal.

When I hit the last page, I wanted more.

Bravo, Mr. Box. You did it again.

Jimmy Orr is the Monitor’s online editor.

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