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Paradise Valley

Review

Paradise Valley

C.J. Box, alongside his critically acclaimed and commercially successful Joe Pickett mysteries, has been quietly creating and crafting a haunting series of novels that have become known as the Highway Quartet. This series, consisting of BACK OF BEYOND, THE HIGHWAY, BADLANDS and the newly published PARADISE VALLEY, exists outside of the state of Wyoming, where Pickett plies his game warden skills with a steadfast (and extremely entertaining) manner and varying degrees of success.

The Highway Quartet is set primarily in Montana and North Dakota, and features Cassie Dewell, an investigator with the Bakken County, North Dakota sheriff’s department. The wide-spaced environs and the economic boom and bust brought about by oil fracturing provides a subtle backdrop to the series, the thrust of which is Cassie’s understandable obsession with a serial killer known as the Lizard King. Cassie was the first to uncover the identity of the Lizard King, a serial-killing long-distance independent trucker (drawn by Box from a real-world palette) who, as this final installment begins, has been operating with impunity across the country for years. The King has managed to escape capture, to Cassie’s continuing frustration.

"Box is at his absolute best here, introducing interesting and memorable characters throughout the book and mixing them into a suspenseful, well-conceived and perfectly paced plot."

The opening of PARADISE VALLEY finds Cassie in the midst of organizing a sting operation with the Bakken County sheriff’s office, which seems almost certain to trap the Lizard King for good. The operation, though, goes horribly wrong, leading to the deaths of several law enforcement personnel and the apparent suicide of the Lizard King. As a result, Cassie is hung out to dry and finds herself out of a job. However, it just so happens that two boys go missing on the day of the attempted arrest, and the grandmother of one of them hires a reluctant Cassie as a de facto private investigator to find him. Cassie pulls a few law enforcement strings to start the sub rosa investigation and discovers that a number of suspicious events occurred on the day of the tragic arrest attempt and in the same general area.

In addition to the boys going missing, a local housewife has disappeared, seemingly deserting her husband in the middle of the day. Meanwhile, another long-distance truck driver who lived nearby has vanished at the same time that his home burned to the ground. These events and a couple of pieces of evidence lead Cassie to believe that perhaps the Lizard King didn’t die by suicide after all, and that the disappearances may all be related to him somehow. She follows some slim trails and leads, going back to the Lizard King’s place of origin, where she obtains the help of an unlikely and unexpected but extremely competent and colorful source. Meanwhile, the lives of innocents hang in the balance, even as it appears that if Cassie is successful in her quest, it may be too little, too late.

Whether you are a fan of the Joe Pickett novels or are unfamiliar with Box’s work, you must read the deceptively titled PARADISE VALLEY. Box is at his absolute best here, introducing interesting and memorable characters throughout the book and mixing them into a suspenseful, well-conceived and perfectly paced plot.

You will want to start at the beginning of the Highway Quartet just to get the full flavor of Box’s understated but perfect evolution of Cassie over the course of the series. But if you are in a hurry to find out how things resolve, you can read PARADISE VALLEY without any knowledge of what has gone before, thanks to Box’s skillfully executed penchant for giving newcomers (and forgetful older readers) just enough to bring them up to date. In any event, this is a book --- and a series --- not to be missed.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 28, 2017

Paradise Valley
by C. J. Box

  • Publication Date: July 25, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250051045
  • ISBN-13: 9781250051042